Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who says size doesn't matter?

The view from my garden
My house has a lot of trees.  I like trees.   From the first pale green fuzz of spring to the stark nakedness of winter, nothing marks the cycle of the seasons quite like trees.  But here's the thing.  A house with a lot of trees is necessarily a house without a garden.  All that cool shade just sucks the lifeblood out of anything that grows.  I've managed to coax along a few hearty herbs: chives, oregano, and thyme, but anything that needs to flower and fruit is a goner.  For too many years I've dutifully schlepped to Lowe's and bought my $20 worth of seedlings, and just about this time of year, I'm celebrating that one glorious $20 tomato.

But not this year.  This year a neighbor friend of mine took pity on me.  She has a house with sunshine--8 to 10 hours a day of solid Virginia sunlight.  Every year her garden looks like she's been doping it with steroids--big hearty tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and giant zucchini.  Whereas I'm forced to stingily pinch almost-yellow basil leaves from the one or two plants that survived May, this garden grows enough basil to actually make a homemade pesto.   And this year, my dear dear dear friend let me SHARE her garden.   
This year I got to put my $20 worth of seedlings someplace where they grew.  And oh my--how they did.  Just look at these bad boys--almost 12 inches each of homegrown hunky produce:

Somehow a grainy blurry picture seems appropriate here.

No one should have zucchini this big.  It's enough to make a girl swoon--or at least get her to make ratatouille.  

Borrowed liberally from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child without any permission what-so-ever.

1.  Peel one large purple eggplant and slice it lengthwise into 1/4" slices.  

2. Slice off the ends of one large zuccini, and slice it just like the eggplant--w/4" slices.   Seems like a pity but  it is for cooking, after all. 

3. Toss both the eggplant and zuccini with salt, and layer the slices  between paper towels for about 30 minutes.  The salt draws out any bitter juices, which the paper towels then absorb.

4. Lightly fry each slice of eggplant and zucchini in olive oil until slightly brown--about a minute on each side.  Set aside.

5.  In the same skillet, saute one sliced yellow or white onion and 2 slice bell peppers (any color works) in olive oil.

6.  Once they are limp, but not brown, add 2 cloves of mashed garlic.  Salt and pepper to taste.

7.  Here's where I depart from Julia.  Julia now adds one pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped.  It's a total pain to do this.  If you are feeling all high and mighty, or have a bushel of tomatoes to use from your garden (never my problem, but perhaps this year will be different), go ahead an use fresh tomatoes.  Build in about a half an hour to blanch, peel, seed and chop the tomatoes.   If you're lazy, just add one 27 ounce can of diced tomatoes.  

8.  Add 3 Tbs fresh chopped parsley.  A word here on parsley.  Buy flat parsley.  Be careful not to buy cilantro, which looks remarkably similar to flat parsley; if you do, your ratatouille will have a decidedly Hispanic flair.  But if you buy curley parsley, your ratatouille--or anything else that cook with it--won't have any flavor.   There's a reason that curley parsley is used for garnish at Denny's: there's no expectation that anyone will actually eat it.

Flat: parsley good.
Curly parsley bad.

9.  Layer a large saucepan or casserole dish with the tomato mixture and the eggplant and zucchini.  Cover and simmer on low heat until it's ready.  Julia advises that it need only simmer about 10 minutes covered and another 15 uncovered.  I just let her simmer on low heat until it looks like all the ingredients are well-blended and the dish is giving off an aroma that makes your mouth water--about an hour. 

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