Let us take a moment to savor the sumptuousness of the summer harvest! And to select a few glorious things to do with it. My dear friend and neighbor Julie Burford and I already have our tried and true traditions and are happy to share. We’ve got you covered. (You may remember Julie from The soul of soup: cooking with my Soup Sister.)
What I am talking about is watching and waiting for certain fruits and vegetables to reach their PEAK and then swinging into action. There is a time and a place when the flavor of a dish will reach the zenith of its potential, and there’s something deeply satisfying about hitting that nail right on the head.
Remember when the movie Ratatouille came out in summer 2007? My friend Julie and I were so excited to go see it, since ratatouille, a classic Provençal stew of perfectly ripe vegetables, is one of our favorite late summer dishes.
We turned our movie outing into an event! We went to the farmers market ahead of time and got all of our ingredients — i.e., exquisitely ripe eggplant, sweet peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, fresh basil — glorious stuff! We went to the movie and had a total blast. All that slicing and dicing and animation were delightfully inspiring!
We returned home, donned our aprons, and made the BEST recipe for ratatouille that we know.
The recipe is by Alice Waters. Her technique of building flavor by adding each vegetable one at a time rewards you with a version of ratatouille that is NOT congealed, soupy, overcooked slop (been there, done that?), but a dish that’s bright and vibrant with each vegetable a shining star in its own right.
Now every year, when eggplants are firm and all the ingredients are serendipitously at their peak, we don’t even have to call. We know. Last week I texted Julie and just said, “It’s time.” She knew what I meant.
Every year, we make it and every year we say, “This is the best one yet!” Almost like we’ve forgotten. We wait all year for the ingredients to be at their peak, like little kids waiting to open Christmas presents. We divvy up the work the same as always. We don’t even have to talk to each other. We prep our portion, line up our bowls, committed to executing this dish with perfection. Then we sit down and… eat!
This is all that was left over from a big 3 quart pan. Julie always gets to keep the leftovers. She likes making a Ratatouille frittata. I like mine straight, and am content with that one wonderful meal.
I’m a recipe writer, but I’m not a recipe follower. I don’t even follow my own recipes! But THIS recipe I have memorized and I follow it to a T. And I’m never ever disappointed. If you are cooking with the best ingredients available, ripe and in season — Alice Water’s food philosophy — and take the time to savor the flavors at the table, it’s such a gift!
Eating a crisp is heaven’s way of saying you must have done something right (or nice) today. Julie, a serious baker, says crisps need to look “abundant,” and her nectarine and blueberry crisps take abundant to the limit. The smells that suffuse the kitchen as this dish bakes are absolutely intoxicating, nectarines and blueberries blending with coconut oil, cinnamon, and nuts to create an olfactory orgasm. (Can I say that? Wait, I just did!)