The honeymoon's not over for me and Ottolenghi. I am cooking my way through select recipes from his cookbook Plenty, and every, every single thing I make turns out to make people sigh and swoon. Seriously. He is a genius.
Last week I insisted that my oldest son Jonah come home for dinner, the first time since he moved into his dorm in Chicago's South Loop. I thought for days about what to cook. I wanted it to be something with an absurd amount of vegetables - surely he wasn't eating enough fresh veggies on his meal plan. To be honest, I kind of haven't been eating enough veggies on my meal plan. Part of our living in-residence deal is that my family and I can eat in the dining hall, and on many weeknights we take advantage of this perk. The food is reasonably good, and we're eating vegetables, of course, but it's not like the homemade/made with love/ usually-organic fare that I put on the table on my best nights.
So I wanted dinner with Jonah to be this - the best of the best. We have always loved ratatouille, and when I read Ottolenghi's take on the classic- with parsnips! hot pepper! butternut squash! green beans! - I knew it would be something special and exactly what I was looking for.
The amount of chopping was daunting. I put Henry to work on garlic and onions, Jake peeling potatoes and prepping beans. I think prep work should be a family affair; sharing the chopping makes cooking more fun and less laborious. Give your children knives, people! With the three of us on task we had a massive pile of vegetables ready to cook in minimal time, and then I started the process of frying, simmering, and finally roasting this thing into deliciousness.
It was great to see Jonah. He devoured two enormous servings of ratatouille, and thus satisfied that I'd given him about a week's worth of vegetables and a month's worth of motherly love, I hugged my son and off he went, well nourished.
adapted from a recipe in Ottolengi's Plenty
*note: dice all vegetables into similarly-sized (approximately 1-inch) pieces
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
4 red and/or yellow peppers, diced
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
2 zucchini, diced
1 large eggplant, peeled and diced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 28-ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
Big pinch sugar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper
Chopped parsley or cilantro to garnish
Warm 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and a tiny pinch of salt and cook 5-10 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño, and peppers, and cook 5 more minutes. Add squash and parsnip and cook 5 more minutes.
Use a slotted spoon to scoop vegetables out and into a bowl (leave as much oil in the pot as possible). Add remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and cook green beans, zucchini, and eggplant for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Return the other vegetables to the pot, add potatoes, tomatoes and their juices, sugar, tomato paste, and lots of salt and pepper to taste. Add water to half-cover everything, stir well, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt or pepper if necessary.
Heat oven to 400. Scoop vegetables out of pot and into a roasting pan. Pour in the cooking liquid, and bake 30 minutes, until liquid cooks off. Vegetables should be very, very soft. As Ottolenghi writes, "overcooking the vegetables is the whole point here."
Serve with plain white rice. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.
May cause swooning in you and others.