If this week’s haul from our CSA doesn’t scream ratatouille, I don’t know what does. Then again, there are times chez umami these days – and dinnertime does seem to be the new witching hour – when you’ve got to scream just to hear yourself think. Even if you’re an eggplant and a couple of tomatoes.
In addition to a surprisingly good movie of the same name, which features a gorgeous $275-tasting-menu-worthy version of the dish, if any food can be so worthy (a version apparently invented by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry and Per Se, who consulted on the film), there are at least as many variations on ratatouille as there are cooks. With this one, I’ve kept it simple (but rich in umami), in honor of ratatouille’s peasant origins, and not the least bit because it’s all I can do to put a meal on the table before the actual witching hour these days, even if that meal is takeout sushi. This week, we served ratatouille with Julie Hartigan’s pimenton-marinated seafood, in honor of our family’s pan-European origins. And not the least bit because serving a Franish (Spench?) meal with no apologies to either culture really does not register on my scream-o-meter at all at the moment.
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
3 small red onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 small eggplants, diced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely chopped or crushed a bit with a mortar and pestle
2 zucchini or other summer squash, diced into 1-inch pieces
2 large tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced
1 roasted red pepper, coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons capers
1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a medium dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and a couple of really good pinches of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute. Add the eggplant along with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, the thyme, marjoram and fennel seeds, and a couple more good solid pinches of salt, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is starting to get soft but is not fully cooked. Add the squash, tomatoes, roasted pepper and capers and stir to combine. Partially cover the dutch oven, reduce the heat so that the stew is simmering gently, and continue cooking for about 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are very tender and the tomatoes and roasted pepper have broken down and reduced to a moderately thick sauce. Off the heat, stir in the sherry vinegar and season with pepper and additional salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. This is good on the day you make it but only gets better with a little time to get to know itself in the fridge.
Julie Hartigan’s Grilled Pimenton Shrimp
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
1 1/4 teaspoons sweet pimenton (also called sweet smoked Spanish paprika)
2 cloves minced garlic, mashed to a paste with 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar or cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound shelled, cleaned shrimp
Whisk together the pimenton, garlic paste, lemon juice, vinegar, pepper and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and toss gently to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes at cool room temperature or up to 4 hours in the fridge. Skewer and grill the shrimp, or broil or saute them if you’re cooking indoors. Julie also recommends, as an alternative, serving these all tiki chic with grilled pineapple.
When Julie made this for us, we ate it all before I could take a picture. Then, with the ratatouille, I used this marinade on some Montauk scallops. And we ate them all before I could take a picture. Both were good, but the shrimp were better. I’m almost convinced that it’s because scallops generally benefit from less culinary intervention, whereas scrappy little shrimp can easily stand up to a bit of bitchiness in a marinade. On the other hand, isn’t good food always better when someone else cooks it for you?
For dessert, if you live in Hoboken and aren’t part of the demographic that spends its evenings spilling sambuca on its knee socks and leather sandals at one of the soccer clubs, there is finally a bakery for you. Stop by sweet on the corner of Garden and 4th for a mini red velvet cupcake or four – you won’t be disappointed. I’ve been sucking them down so loudly that I can barely hear all you New Yorkers having a mighty laugh about how a pastel-colored corner bakery that isn’t even vegan could be “new.” Oh, well, we Jersey girls are used to a little lip from you all by now. As we like to say between blissful bites of mini cupcake, what doesn’t kill you makes you fatter.
Salud, cin cin and sante!