August 9, 2017

Dear friends,
My major crops this year are Chinese eggplants and tomatoes. I planted about 12 tomato plants and have harvested at least a dozen ripe beauties, with many more on the way. I planted a dozen eggplant seedlings, too, and the plants are gorgeously robust. But the slackers have not produced a single flower yet, let alone an eggplant.

The ratatouille cannot wait any longer. I crave the sunny flavors of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes simmered with garlic and finished with fresh-ground black pepper. This year I gilded the lily by drizzling homemade pesto over the platter of vegetables just before serving.

Even without the pesto, my ratatouille probably would not be recognized in southern France, the area of its birth. In the original, the vegetables are stewed until they softly melt into each other. I prefer more stand-offish vegetables that soften but keep to themselves.

The following recipe is a riff on Patricia Wells’ version from “At Home in Provence.” I like her trick of adding liquid (in this case, tomatoes) to sautéed garlic to stop the cooking and keep it from burning.

Long, thin Chinese eggplants are beginning to show up in farmers’ markets and even mainstream supermarkets. If you can’t find them, try an Asian market. They are worth searching out because they are not bitter, like globe eggplants can be. Even the skin is edible.

RATATOUILLE WITH PESTO

Image
Trim eggplant and zucchini and cut in halves lengthwise, then into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir fry eggplant until it begins to brown on edges. Add zucchini and stir fry until almost tender. Add salt and garlic and stir fry until garlic begins to brown. Add tomatoes and vinegar and cook over high heat until tomatoes are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in pepper. Remove from heat and stir in pesto. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.
  • 4 Chinese eggplant, about 6 to 8 inches long
  • 4 zucchini, about 6 to 8 inches long
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 3 lbs. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp. pesto (homemade or purchased)

HELP U COOK

Peeling and seeding tomatoes is not a chore I enjoy, but knowing the proper technique reduces the hair-pulling tremendously. There are two ways you can do it. If you have a bunch of tomatoes to peel, drop them in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. The skin will slip right off.

For one or two tomatoes, cut an “x” in the stem end of a medium-size tomato and microwave on high power for 30 seconds. When the tomato is cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.

To seed a tomato, cut it in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked last week:
Homemade pizza with sliced tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and Parmesan; pan-fried noodles with beef stir fry; grill-smoked prime rib, baked new potatoes, sliced ripe tomatoes with mayonnaise and hot sauce; meatloaf, corn on the cob, little tomatoes eaten like apples.

What I ate out last week:
A crab cake slider, meatloaf slider, greens and beans at Arnie’s Public House in the Wallhaven area of Akron; fried fish fillet, coleslaw at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; beef kibbee, meat fatayer at Our Lady of the Cedars’ Lebanese food festival in Copley; an Original Cuban Sandwich (pretty good) at Mi Casa Mexican restaurant in Hartville; a Southern Slaw Dog (Coney sauce and slaw) at the Copley Heritage Festival.

THE MAILBAG

 
From Cindy W.:
Re: Jo Jo potatoes — I first encountered the thick, wedged, skin-on, deep-fried potatoes named “Jo Jos” at a Moscow, Idaho pizza joint while in law school at the University of Idaho in 1971. They were offered as an appetizer or side and served with sour cream (often with chives) for dipping. So no, Debbie C., they aren’t unique to Akron, my hometown, where I’d never seen them on any menu before 1971.

Dear Cindy: Idaho?! Isn’t it enough that the state lays claim to baking potatoes? Must they steal our Jo Jos too?

From Barb Hipsman-Springer:
You mentioned line-caught salmon last week. The following group is out to educate consumers on where to buy fish. Mostly West Coast, but the video was put together by my daughter, Kyla Springer Yeoman for EdoTrust and Local Catch.

Dear Barb: Congratulations on having such a talented daughter. The organization, Local Catch, educates consumers about the eco superiority of “wild, sustainable, traceable, healthy” fish. The video (and the site) is worth a look. So far, no retailers in Ohio, but the list is sure to grow.

 
From Martha K.:
I, and my dining companion, loved the Vietnamese meatball taco (at Bombas)! It’s hardly taco fare, but I enjoyed the flavors and the fresh crunch of the jicama slaw. To each his own, eh?

Dear Martha: I am happy to print opposing views. I thought the flavor was OK, but my meatballs had an unpleasant, mushy texture. Sure you didn’t have a couple of mojitos before tasting?
(Just kidding, my friend).

Winner of two James Beard Awards for food writing.

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