I read an amusing article recently about how so many of us love the uncluttered esthetics of open-concept, minimalist home design — yet so few of us can really pull that off because we just have too much darn stuff.
I count myself among those. I readily admit I have countless cookbooks in nearly every room of my house. Though, I’m not as bad as one chef I know, whose wife told me he even has cookbooks stacked underneath the sink. I draw the line at that.
Notebooks teeter in a mountain on my desk. Knickknacks vie for space on living room shelves. My pantry groans with sous vide, pasta, and ice cream maker contraptions. And my kitchen spice cabinet does overflow. So much so, that my husband is sometimes afraid to open it, lest an avalanche of mustard seeds, star anise and za’atar come tumbling down upon him.
As much as I love the look of clean lines, my house will probably never fully achieve that calm, sparse vibe.
So I take comfort where I can, such as in “Ratatouille Tian.”
It’s zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, sliced into rounds of the same size, then arranged just so in neat rows in a baking pan. It’s so simple yet so striking in its appearance.
It’s an orderly dish for those times when chaos typically rules.
It’s the perfect delicious anecdote.
And it’s from the new cookbook, “In the French Kitchen with Kids” (Penguin Random House) by Mardi Michels, of which I received a review copy.
Michels is a full-time French teacher to elementary school kids. Twice a week, she gives them cooking lessons, too. She also is the creator of the blog, Eat.Live.Travel.Write.
We’ve all seen those video clips of how superior the food looks that’s served in schools in France. No chicken fingers and water-logged hot dogs. Just fresh-baked baguettes, from-scratch soup, green salads and restaurant-quality-looking main dishes — served on real plateware, in courses. It’s enough to make me want to go back to school.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that the recipes in this cookbook are not dumbed down in any way. It proves food doesn’t have to be made with “Star Wars” cookie cutters or drowned in Ranch dressing to appeal to younger appetites. Just make good food well — and get the kids involved in the preparation — and they will develop greater enthusiasm and appreciation for it.
I’ve made plenty of different styles of ratatouille — cooked on the stove-top or in the oven. Usually, they call for cooking all the vegetables all mixed together or at least combined in that manner before serving.
Here, the vegetables are all arranged separately in their own rows over a bed of thinly sliced onions They are cooked for quite awhile in the oven yet they retain their shape, integrity and individuality. In this way, you distinctly taste the eggplant separately from the zucchini and from the tomatoes, making you appreciate each one singularly, instead of having the tomato or eggplant overtake the dish as sometimes happens with ratatouille. The long roasting also brings out the inherent sweetness of each vegetable. A flourish of Herbes de Provence adds a perfumey aroma that is undeniably a taste of the French countryside.
The recipe calls for a 5-by-7-inch pan. I only had a 7-by-10-inch one, so I just added more vegetables to fill it snugly.
That’s the beauty of this dish. You may not be able to organize your garage to save your life. But you can certainly gain order over one small baking pan.
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 baby or 1 small eggplant, thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
3 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced in rounds
1/2 teaspoon dried Herbes de Provence
Olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the onion slices and minced garlic in the bottom of a 5-by-7-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
Stack the eggplant slices upright against the long side of the dish so they are slightly overlapping each other. They should be quite tightly packed. Follow with a row of zucchini slices, arranged in the same manner. Next, make a row of tomato slices.
Continue in this manner until you have no more vegetable slices left. You should have enough vegetable slices and room to make at least two rows of each vegetable.
Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables, sprinkle with the Herbes de Provence, cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.
Remove the foil from the dish, drizzle with a little more olive oil and bake, uncovered, for a further 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
Season to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.
From “In the French Kitchen with Kids” by Mardi Michels
More Eggplant Recipes to Enjoy: “If-It-Ain’t Broke Eggplant Caponata”
And: Eggplant Curry