I’m giving Mother Nature one last chance to fess up: it’s not really winter, is it. My tank tops, shorts, flip flops and freckled face tell me its summer. The vegetables on sale at the market — eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes — give me further proof of her seasonal cover-up.
Oh well. I must sound like a broken record by now. Rather than (continuing to) question the caprices of this weather, I chose to embrace the provisions and make the most summery dish I could think of. Ratatouille with basil pesto.
Ratatouille is all about layers — this version in particular boasts both vertical and horizontal. The strata of vegetables lie on a slathering of pesto, while the tops receive a drizzle of garlic-herb oil. After cooking, the flavor is kicked up again with a pesto, balsamic and fresh herb vinaigrette.
Still want more? Add one last layer by crumbling over some fresh ricotta before broiling. With a hunk of warm bread and a glass of Rosé, it’ll bring you right back to a warm, leisurely evening on the patio.
That’s right, I know what season it is. In fact I have no doubt we’ll be slapped in the face with the cold, snowy reality upon arriving home in Wisconsin — it wouldn’t be Christmas any other way. I only wanted to go out with a warm weather food bang, and did we ever. Frozen north, here we come!
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Disclaimer: Because it isn’t summer, and these vegetables were trucked and/or flown in from some southern hemisphere locale, the flavors were a bit dull. This is a dish best eaten with garden or farmers market fresh vegetables during high summer, at the peak of ripeness.
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Pesto Ratatouille [serves 4]
Use a mandoline for ease of cutting the zucchini, eggplant and squash. For slicing the tomato, stick with a very sharp knife. The ricotta is optional, but it really adds a nice pop on the top.
For the Vegetables:
3 T pesto, divided (homemade if you have it)
1 zucchini (4 to 5 oz) sliced in 1/16″ rounds
1 Japanese eggplant (4 to 5 oz) sliced into 1/16″ rounds
1 yellow squash (4 to 5 oz) sliced into 1/16″ rounds
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/16″ rounds
1/2 t minced garlic
2 t olive oil
1/8 t fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 c fresh ricotta, optional — if you feel adventurous, homemade
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For the Vinaigrette:
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 t balsamic vinegar (the best you can find; preferably aged)
Assorted fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme), chopped
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 275° F. Spread 2 T pesto in the bottom of an 8″ cast iron skillet.
Down the center of the skillet, arrange a strip of alternating slices of vegetables over the pesto, overlapping so that 1/4″ of each slice is exposed. Around the center strip, overlap vegetables in a close spiral that lets slices mound slightly toward center. Repeat until pan is filled; all vegetables may not be needed. (Or if you’re like me, continue with the rows on either side, filling in any gaps on the edges with leftover vegetables.)
Mix garlic, oil and thyme leaves in bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle over vegetables. Cover pan with foil and crimp edges to seal well. Bake until vegetables are tender when tested with a paring knife, about 2 hours. Uncover and bake 30 minutes more; lightly re-cover with foil if it starts to brown. If there is excess liquid in the pan, place over medium heat on the stove until liquid has reduced. (At this point it may be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Serve cold or reheat in preheated 350° F oven until warm.)
While the ratatouille cooks, prepare the vinaigrette. Combine reserved pesto, oil, vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Set aside.
When ratatouille is cooked, remove it from the oven and heat the broiler. Sprinkle crumbles of fresh ricotta over top of the ratatouille and place skillet underneath the broiler until lightly browned. Slice in quarters and very carefully lift onto plate with an offset spatula. Drizzle vinaigrette, as much or as little as you like, over the ratatouille and around the plate. Serve hot, warm or room temperature.