As the summer slips away, I fight to hold on to the fading signs of a glorious season and embrace the last vestiges of its greatest glory -- the vegetable garden! Actually, having slightly cooler weather in the evenings has let me begin to shift from light summer wines to ones with a little more oomph. This past weekend I spent a few hours working on a wonderful batch of ratatouille and then enjoyed a fine dinner with a simply great wine match: Cotes du Rhone. Neither particularly big nor complex, this style of wine really lets the complexity of the ratatouille take center stage.
What to expect:Rhone Blends are generally based on Grenache, though some may be predominantly Syrah or even Mourvedre. The fact that these wines are blends gives the winemakers unusual flexibility in creating the finished wine. In the Southern Rhone Valley of France the styles can range from light, fruity, soft Cotes du Rhone to big, bold, age-worthy Chateauneuf-du-pape.
2007 Delas Frères Côtes du Rhône Saint-Esprit
This is an unusual Cotes du Rhone in that it is predominantly Syrah, with the addition of 25% Grenache. The resulting wine is filled with slightly roasted red berry fruits that stand up to the sweet tones the fresh vegetables and tomato add to the ratatouille. Accent notes of spice and herbs meld seamlessly with the savory elements of the dish.
Ratatouile for All
My ratatouille recipe is one scaled down from my restaurant days. Back then a normal recipe produced about four times the yield as this one, but the results are the same: Deliciousness! I paired this ratatouille with grilled lamb chops and fettuccine but it’s great on its own as well. Other wines that work well with this dish include Chianti and Rioja, both lighter-styled reds with bright acidity.
Living in Manhattan I don’t have a vegetable garden, per se. Ok I don’t have a vegetable garden at all, though I have killed several herb plants on my windowsill.
My mother, on the other hand, living in Connecticut, does have a true vegetable garden. It’s large and glorious, brimming with sweet ripe produce and ringed by an imposing 8-foot fence. It looks somewhat like a prison yard, but the fence keeps the deer out and me rolling in fresh veggies.
Sometimes rolling may seem like an understatement; it can be more like drowning -- not that I mind! Picking up bags FULL of vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and spectacularly deeply colored peppers is as exciting for me as a trip down Fifth Avenue can be for fashion addicts.
Of course there is one significant difference between these vegetables and a Prada bag. The Prada bag can simply get thrown in the closet and forgotten. These bags need to be cleaned, processed and creatively dealt with, lest I face a week, or more, of Greek salad for dinner.
Ratatouille seems to be the ideal solution. (Ok, I cheated a bit -- the cucumbers are being pickled.) This is a dish inspired no doubt by days like this in the French countryside. A dish that thrives on abundance, and is oh so forgiving of a little less here or a little more there. It’s one of my favorite dishes. Whether on it’s own, warm or cold, paired with a lamb chop or served with rice or pasta, I love its flexibility and the fact that its flavor can improve for a day or three so I never grow tired of it.
I’ve included my standard recipe for ratatouille below. You might find that you have a touch more onion or a touch less eggplant (or vice versa) than the recipe calls for. Don’t be too concerned about precise quantities here, just focus on the techniques and when you’re done make sure you take the time to enjoy your handiwork.
I recently spent some time in my mother’s kitchen salvaging vegetables from the garden on a rainy Saturday and made a huge batch of ratatouille for all of us to share. On Sunday, the weather cleared up and shared it we did, served over fettuccine with a sprinkle of Parmiggiano and the aforementioned grilled lamb chops. It was spectacular and the wine pairing, a 2007 Delas Cotes du Rhone that I stocked up on for events like this, was a perfect partner!
While I recommend serving a Cote du Rhone with Ratatouille, or at least trying one, don’t fret if that’s not a wine you’re interested in. A nice Chianti or Rioja would be a great match, too!
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, 1/3 inch dice
- 2 medium bell pepper ½ inch dice (I used one green and one red)
- 2 small eggplant, 1 inch dice
- 2 tsp fresh thyme
- 1 tsp fresh oregano
- 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 medium zucchini sliced into ¼ inch half moons
- 2 medium yellow squash sliced into ¼ half moons
- 1 quart roughly chopped tomatoes, either canned or fresh but in either case well drained
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup loosely packed julienne of fresh basil leaves
- Heat a large roasting pan over medium heat, one large enough to accommodate all the vegetables, and when hot add the oil.
- As soon as the oil begins to smoke add the onions and sauté until translucent.
- Once the onions are translucent add the peppers and eggplant and sauté until they have softened, (the corners of the eggplant will start to look rounded)
- Add the garlic, oregano and thyme to the mixture and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes, then add the zucchini and yellow squash, sauté for about 5 minutes until heated through then add the tomatoes
- Season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer over medium heat until the squash have softened and the tomatoes are heated through, about 8 minutes.
- Remove from heat, adjust seasonings and stir in the basil as a final touch.
- Your ratatouille is ready to serve or store!