For those of us enjoying a much-needed stay-cation over the Labor Day holiday, a visit to the local farmer's market, bringing home a basketful of fresh vegetables, and cooking a simple but satisfying summer meal can be a delightful weekend activity. We love all of the recipes from renowned chef and food activist Alice Waters' cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, not to mention her philosophy of buying local, high-quality ingredients, and cooking them simply: a true pioneer of fewer, better food. Alternatively, if you're not in the mood for cooking, book a reservation at Ms. Waters' Michelin-star rated restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley: a pride and joy of Northern California cuisine, where the menu is dictated daily by what's fresh and in season locally.
In particular, we love Ms. Waters' ratatouille recipe - classic ratatouille updated with a few modern details - reprinted below. Bon Appetit and Happy Labor Day!
(Serves 6 to 8)
1 medium or 2 small eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
2 medium onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 bunch of basil, tied in a bouquet with kitchen twine + 6 basil leaves, chopped
pinch of dried chile flakes
2 sweet peppers, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 medium summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ripe medium tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
Salt to taste
1. Toss the eggplant cubes with a teaspoon or so of salt. Set the cubes in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Pat the eggplant dry, add to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden. Add a bit more oil if the eggplant absorbs all the oil and sticks to the bottom of the pan. Remove the eggplant when done and set aside.
3. In the same pot, pour in 2 more tablespoons olive oil. Add onions and cook for about 7 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, basil bouquet, dried chile flakes, and a bit more salt.
4. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, then stir in peppers. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in summer squash. Cook for a few more minutes, then stir in tomatoes.
5. Cook for 10 minutes longer, then stir in eggplant and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, until all the vegetables are soft. Remove the bouquet of basil, pressing on it to extract all its flavors, and adjust the seasoning with salt.
6. Stir in the chopped basil leaves and more extra virgin olive oil, to taste. Serve warm or cold.