Hot enough for ya? With scorching temperatures continuing well into the week, maybe longer, I am feeling as lazy as everyone else in Eugene. It even seems a stretch to water the garden, because I have to, well, turn on the timer.
Retrogrouch steps up during these difficult times and grills most of our meals. He feels the grill should be dedicated to meat, so I have to sneak in little vegetable packages around the sides and after the main act is done. I try to grill anything I can in this furtive, sloppy seconds manner.
One of the dishes I discovered could work well for day-after vegetable lunches and supper is a layered ratatouille, using fresh tomatoes and pre-roasted vegetables. The photo above shows one night’s version, made with a single, deep gold heirloom tomato.
Ratatouille, the southern French summer classic of sauteed eggplant, zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, onions and peppers, is a rather plain Jane. It looks like the weeping stew it is. So Thomas Keller, the chef of the French Laundry, came along and invented a layered version, dubbed confit byaldi to fancy it up. There, the vegetables are sliced into thin rounds and baked on a bed of sauce.
My considerably less fancy version involves layers, yes, and a quick jaunt in the oven first thing in the morning or last thing at night, before the heat sets in. But I use vegetables that were cooked on the grill the evening before: skinny Asian eggplants and a head of garlic slowly roasted whole with olive oil in sealed foil packets, green and red peppers charred until their skin is black, and thick slices of sweet onion.
After peeling the black skin from the peppers, I cut the vegetables in thick, rustic slices and layer them in a Pyrex dish with slices of a juicy, perfect garden tomato and a thinly sliced zucchini, both of which favor being almost raw for a contrast to the mushy eggplant and peppers. The onion and garlic can be either chopped and placed on the bottom of the dish, or integrated into the layers. As I create the layers, I add fresh garden thyme and basil, and pour a healthy amount of olive oil atop the whole thing. Add plenty of salt and pepper, even more than you think you need.
After a quick jaunt in the oven at 425 degrees, no more than 15 minutes, the tomato has started to wither and melt, and the herb- and garlic-scented olive oil bathes the vegetables in a sauce that tastes of the very essence of summer.
Serve as is, with bread to sop up the juices, over rice or pasta, or even as a topping on burgers. Because you have to use that grill again the next night, right?