“Summer has come and passed/ The innocent can never last/ Wake me up when September ends”- Green Day
Sometimes I think the Southern Cali in me will never get used to the changing of seasons in the Northeast. If I could, I think I would wear flip flops and sundresses all year round. But the arrival of Fall, with its crisp refreshing chill in the air, was a wake up call for me. I’ve been immersed in my warm bubble of vacation-traveling and nest-building so long that I’ve neglected this little corner of blog haven.
But before I succumb entirely to Fall just yet, I want to share one more dish that to me, captures the essence of summer sunshine – the Ratatouille. Popularized by Remy the lovable rat in the Pixar film, this veggie-centric dish represents everything pastoral, natural, and simply honest about food. There is no fancy work involved, yet every bite bursts with nostalgic flavor that takes you back to that imaginary country cottage in Provence on a lazy summer’s day.
This is my favorite version after numerous experimentation, inspired by the layered aesthetics of the Ratatouille in the film, and incorporating my favorite ingredients. Smoked mozzarella adds a subtle hit of the unexpected and creates satisfaction as you work your way through the stringy glory; my tomato mixture (which you can’t see) has just a touch of cream to sweeten and a kick of tarragon for warmth; finally the puff pastry crust not only provides a delightful crunch and but holds it all together nicely.
Sneak These Ingredients In:
- 1 small to medium eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch
- 2-3 large zucchinis, sliced 1/4 inch
- 8oz “log” of fresh smoked mozzarella, sliced 1/4 inch
- 2-3 bell peppers, broiled, sweated out, and peeled, then cut into strips
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2-3 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped (or 1-2 tsp dried tarragon)
- 4-5 leaves of basil, finely chopped, plus some extra for garnish
- 1-2 tsp of dried herb & spice mixture (thyme, oregano, cayenne, paprika) (optional)
- 1/4 cup fat free half & half
- 1 tbsp agave nectar
- 2 sheets of Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets
- olive oil for drizzling and cooking
- salt and pepper to taste
Smell it, taste it, devour the RATatouille!
- Preheat Oven to 350-375. Defrost the puff pastry sheets and spread over baking dish.
- Make the tomato sauce: Cook the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, onions, and garlic over medium heat until sauce thickens. Add water or more paste as necessary. Add in salt, pepper, tarragon, basil and stir. Slowly incorporate the half & half and agave and adjust until you reach the desired balance of acidity and savory.
- Precook the eggplant. I find this step extremely important unless you’re using Japanese eggplants which cook more easily. Saute the eggplant slices in olive oil over medium to high heat and flip on other side until cooked and soft.
- Spread the tomato sauce into the baking dish on top of the puff pastry. Then layer the veggies and cheese on top (eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, cheese, and so forth).
- Drizzle or brush with olive oil and sprinkle the mixed herbs & spice mixture on top.
- Bake for about 40-50 minutes until puff pastry is golden brown and vegetables and cheese are bubbly without being overcooked.
- Be transported into the French countryside
And on this note, I give Summer one last forlorn glance and spring forward to welcome Fall in all it’s glory. Hello to pumpkins and squashes – can’t wait for what comes next!