The sweltering summer months are upon us and with them come muggy days, fleeting thunderstorms, and a bounty of fresh produce. I was in the mood for something light, colorful, and chock full of veggies when genius struck in the form of a movie about a rodent…
While channel surfing (during a quick break from meaningful, important tasks naturally) I stumbled upon the animated charmer Ratatouille. I’d only seen this movie once, having initially been a little put off by the notion of a rat chef…as I think most of America was. Except my dad. He loves this movie. So I stopped to watch and was instantly carried away to a fictional Parisian world of gourmet food. My stomach growled. I began flipping through cookbooks to find some inspiration while the movie ran in the background. And then it hit me — RATATOUILLE! Not only does this dish end up saving the day in the movie, but it was the perfect solution to my cravings.
Only slightly underused compared to my cakes and cookies books, the vegetarian cookbook on my shelf does come in handy on occasion. This version of the classic Provencal stew required each vegetable be sautéed separately. Suffice it to say — French cooks must have a LOT of bowls. I think I used all of mine. But it felt good knowing that the only ingredients involved were essentially vegetables, olive oil, spices, and salt & pepper.
A fun trick I’d never tried before was plopping the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to soften their skins. They are immediately plunged into cold water after their blistering bath. I was skeptical at first, but the skins peeled right off! Once chopped, the tomatoes resemble exactly what you get were you to crack open a can of the store-bought crushed variety. But it’s summertime — so use fresh tomatoes!
There aren’t many better aromas in this world than tomatoes cooking with garlic. The crushed tomatoes soften under the heat and form a base sauce for the stew. A few bay leaves add some flavor of…the bay I guess? I’ll have to look that one up. Once the onions, bell peppers, eggplant, and zucchini have been sautéed, they all get tossed together with the garlicky tomatoes for a nice long stew.
In the midst of all the chopping and tossing going on in my kitchen, it suddenly dawned on me — today is July 14th. Mais, en français c’est le quatorze juillet. It’s Bastille Day! On this day in 1789 the French got all rowdy on the stuffy aristocrats and stormed the Bastille, marking an end to their oppression and the beginning of a revolution. What better day to whip up such traditional French fare? Being a self-proclaimed Francophile and having studied the language throughout college, I’m a sucker for all things French. Although, it’s a little disturbing that my taste for French food has remained while my language skills have slowly slipped away. Perhaps in the appropriate tradition of the French, however, ply me with enough wine and I’ll be jabbering en français all night long. And as long as I’ve eaten this fantastically fresh dish, I’ll be full of joie de vivre.