September recipes from Monique and Andrea
This week, Andrea and Monique talk about September recipes. Andrea and Monique's book “Travels in Languedoc: Secrets to a Memorable Visit” can be bought from Amazon.
For September, Monique chose recipes that might well be served to hungry workers at the end of a hard day of picking grapes. They are filling dishes, and they are also designed to use up the mountains of aubergines and courgettes that are available at this time of year.
This classic southern French dish is best prepared when all the fresh ingredients are in the market. Like so many French dishes, there are variations, but in a ‘vrai’ ratatouille, the aubergines and courgettes should be cooked separately, and then the other vegetables are cooked together. After a chat with Bernadette, the fruit and vegetable seller at the Thursday market, I came home with my basket laden with onions from Nezignan le Cebe, aubergines, peppers and courgettes from a local farmer, violet garlic from Cadours and tomatoes from Pierre’s garden. The thyme would come from my own small herb garden. Monique indicated that she uses canned tomatoes when the ones in the market are not at their peak or are not local. This is a great dish to make in large quantities as it mellows with time and can be served either cold or warm, as a main dish or as a side.
I asked Monique why you had to cook the aubergines separately from the courgettes but could combine the other ingredients. She said that it was important to treat each vegetable according to their needs. Aubergines must be skinned and cooked separately to allow the inner juices to absorb the liquids on their own and not compete with other vegetables.
Her careful dicing of the aubergines ensured that all the cubes were uniform. Her preparing of the garlic was so different from my haphazard approach or the modern techniques I’ve watched. No fancy garlic press for her as she carefully minced the heads into miniscule bits with her sharp knife.
I have come to appreciate the lessons I am learning from her about food preparation, where the food comes from, the work involved in growing and harvesting it, and the care and diligence one should take when preparing meals. This is so different from my North American experience where the mantra is “time is money” and the more shortcuts to a meal, the better. I am learning to slow down, attend to the matter at hand and to be intentional in carrying out any task I do.
Ingredients for 4 Persons:
2 small aubergines
2 medium courgettes
2 cloves garlic
1 large red pepper
5 fresh medium tomatoes (or 500 ml of canned diced tomatoes)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Several tablespoons of olive oil
Peel the aubergines then cut lengthwise into a least four strips then cut into small cubes.
Place the cubed aubergines into a casserole pot with several tablespoons olive oil and 2-3 grinds of salt and pepper. Cook covered over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the aubergines are soft and mushy.
Remove from pot and set aside.
Peel the courgettes lengthwise leaving alternate rows of peel. Slice into lengths then cube into small pieces. Put into pot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook covered over low heat for 5-10 minutes until the courgettes are soft. Remove from pot and set aside.
Add to aubergine.
Dice onions and chop garlic finely. Add to pot with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Remove stem and seeds from the red pepper and cut into small pieces. Add to onion mix and cook until soft.
When the onion and pepper mix are cooked, add in the aubergine and courgette, stirring together.
Add the tomatoes. If Monique is using fresh tomatoes, she cuts the tomato in half and grate each half to easily remove the pulp.
Add the thyme and more salt and pepper.
Continue cooking over un petit feu (a low heat) for at least 30 minutes and watch carefully that the mixture doesn’t burn.
This recipe can easily be doubled and it is great cold or hot.
Monique showed me a trick for quickly stemming and removing the seeds. She pushes the stem down into the middle of the pepper with her thumb. She then cuts open the pepper and the stem and seeds fall away.
Next week there will be more ideas about how to use up all those courgettes!
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