I am an unashamed lover of vegetables. When I decided to become a vegetarian at the age of 12, I spent the first couple of years subsisting on bread, oatmeal, apples … and bread. But as I started to learn to prepare food for myself, and discovered other, more veggie-friendly ethnic cuisines (Indian! Japanese! Thai! Mediterranean!), a whole world of culinary opportunities stretched out before me and I never once missed the meat on my plate.
When asked to try out a recipe from Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan (pub: October 11), it was very difficult to decide what to make. The book is full of mouth-watering dessert recipes (if there’s one thing I like as much as vegetables, it’s dessert!), as well as tantalizing items like potato waffles and dolmas. I wanted to make something that I could serve to my Dad for Father’s Day dinner, but also something that I could bring into the office that would be both vegetarian and gluten-free. What to make? I know: vegetables!
The Ratatouille with Black Olives ended up fitting the bill perfectly. It was simple and fun to make, and besides all the chopping it was pretty quick too. And of course, the best part is that it is totally delicious: There is a hint of thyme and saffron, but mostly the vegetables do their own talking with salt, pepper, and olive oil to bring out the flavor. And look at all the beautiful colors!
This dish was a big hit with my Dad, my foodie fiancé (who said “this is the best ratatouille I’ve ever had”), and the Algonquin crew. As I write this, the last crust of baguette lies next to an empty bowl in the office kitchen.
– Sarah Rose Nordgren
From Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen
Ratatouille with Black Olives & Fried Bread
It’s impossible for me to make this dish without thinking of my father and how I almost went to jail preparing it for him. In the summer we can barely keep up with the abundance of zucchini from our garden, so I make big pots of ratatouille, browning each vegetable in batches before returning them all to the skillet and adding the tomatoes for a final quick toss. Whether served with croutons, or as a side to grilled meats, or forgotten in the fridge for a few days, where the flavors just get better, it is a perfect summertime dish.
6 Japanese eggplants, chopped in ½ inch cubes, unpeeled
1 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion diced
3 cloves garlic, minced, and 1 whole clove
2 red or yellow bell peppers, chopped in ½ inch pieces
6 zucchini or any yellow squash, chopped in ½ inch pieces
¼ teaspoon saffron
2-3 sprigs of thyme
6 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
¼ cup black olives, Nicoise or Kalamata, pitted and chopped coarsely
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 loaf of chewy sourdough batard or ciabatta
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees
-Toss the eggplant in a bowl with salt, pepper, and a ¼ cup of olive oil. Transfer to a greased cookie sheet in an even layer. Bake approximately 15-20 minutes until lightly browned and soft. Baking the eggplant avoids using too much oil.
-In a large saucepan, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onions until they soften and glisten. Add the garlic and cook another 3 minutes. Add the peppers, season with salt and pepper, cooking over medium high heat until they are tender and browned. Transfer to a baking sheet.
-In the same saucepan, saute the zucchini in 2 tablespoons of olive oil just until they begin to brown and soften. Season with salt and pepper.
-Over medium heat, gently fold in the peppers and onions, and the eggplant to the zucchini. Add the saffron and thyme. Fold in the tomatoes and increase the heat to cook the vegetables together for another 5-10 minutes without stirring too much. The vegetables should not be immersed in a pool of their juices. Pour any excess liquid out and reduce it in another pot until thickened before pouring back over the ratatouille.
-Transfer the ratatouille to a bowl and cool. Remove the sprigs of thyme. Fold in the chopped olives, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and adjust seasoning if needed.
-Rub the crust on the loaf of bread with a halved clove of garlic. Cut into ½ inch thick slices, brush with olive oil, and brown both sides on a griddle or bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until golden brown.
-Serve the ratatouille cold or at room temperature with fried bread, or fold into eggs for a delicious frittata.