By Sandy Hu
In the summer, I dream of Provence – the dry-hot heat, cicadas thrumming, fields of sunflowers and lavender, and farmers’ markets filled to bursting with fresh produce of the region. One day, I want to rent a little house in the country and spend a few weeks reading, puttering about, shopping with my straw basket on market days and cooking leisurely meals while I sip delicious Provençal rosés.
I was in a Provençal state of mind, when I invited my Twitter friend from Hawaii to dinner last Wednesday night. So I made a simple meal starting with tapenade and crostini. Steve grilled a butterflied leg of lamb marinated in olive oil and garlic. And to complete the menu, I roasted some new potatoes, made ratatouille and baked lemon tart for dessert.
My guest, who calls himself @HarryCovair on Twitter (a play on the French bean haricot vert), has been tweeting back and forth with me over more than a year. When Steve and I were vacationing in Hawaii last summer, “Harry” tweeted me tips on where to go and what to eat on the Big Island.
Steve and I had such an enjoyable time meeting “Harry” and his friend John at dinner that night – it’s always fun to make new friends, especially new foodie friends.
Here’s the ratatouille we served. I love this vegetable stew because it captures the essence of a Provençal summer.
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Makes 8 servings
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped onions
1 bay leaf
1 large eggplant (1½ pounds) cut into 1-inch cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise in 1-inch cubes
3 bell peppers cut in 1-inch cubes (yellow, red or orange or a mixture)
2 ½ pounds tomatoes, cut in eight wedges then each wedge cut crosswise
½ cup basil cut in thin strips
- Using kitchen twine or dental floss tie together securely the thyme and rosemary sprigs to make an herb bouquet.
- In a large heavy pot over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onions, the herb bouquet and bay leaf, stir, reduce heat to medium-low and cover, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot, raise heat to medium, then add the eggplant and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.
- Remove eggplant and onion to a bowl, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot and sauté the zucchini and peppers until softened, about 8 minutes.
- Return eggplant mixture to the pot and add tomatoes. Reduce heat, cover and simmer about 35 to 40 minutes until vegetables are soft. Discard herb bouquet and bay leaf. Season liberally with salt and pepper. (You may need about 1 tablespoon of salt.)
- Optional step: While not necessary this will get rid of any wateriness in the ratatouille. Pour ratatouille into a strainer with a bowl underneath to catch the juices. Return the juices into the pot and cook over high heat to reduce the liquid until it thickens and is a little syrupy. Return ratatouille to the pot and toss gently.
- Stir in basil.
- Serve hot, cold or at room temperature. It is best to let the ratatouille sit overnight to meld he flavors.
Note: to cut basil, stack a few leaves together, roll it up like a cigar and slice crosswise.
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