By Cara Nicoletti
As an eighth-grader reading Gone with the Wind, I loved the quippy dialogue, the ridiculous characters, and the mind-bending melodrama. But mostly, mostly I loved the food—skillet-baked cornbread, “yams covered with butter,” piles of “buckwheat cakes dripping syrup,” thick slices of ham “swimming in gravy.” What had me thinking for days, though, was the scene in which Scarlett, wretched with hunger and Tara smoldering around her, goes to the field to gather withered vegetables for dinner.
Her search was rewarded but she was too tired even to feel pleasure at the sight of turnips and cabbages, wilted for want of water but still standing, and straggling butter beans and snap beans, yellowing but edible. She sat down in the furrows and dug into the earth with hands that shook, filling her basket slowly. There would be a good meal at Tara tonight, in spite of the lack of side meat to boil with the vegetables.(Chapter 25)
What did Scarlett do with those wilted turnips and cabbages, those yellowing snap beans? The best solution I know for vegetables on their way out is a big, hearty ratatouille. Early October is the perfect time of year for this dish because it is early enough in Fall that the late Summer’s delicious tomatoes are available, while the approaching chill means that squash is at its peak. I imagine the following would have been on the table at Tara that night. And although the recipe doesn’t include cabbage, butter beans or snap peas, as God as your witness you will never go hungry again. (Not for three or four days, at least.)
Serves 4-6 people
- 1 lb yellow and green zucchini
- 1 lb eggplant (you can tell an eggplant is ripe when it leaves a slight indent after you press your finger into it. Make sure it’s ripe, otherwise it can taste like an unripe banana–yech!)
- 1 lb of plum or Roma tomatoes
- 1/2 pound of heirloom tomatoes
- 1 large yellow onion
- 3 bell peppers (any color—all colors!)
- 1 large fennel bulb
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dry red wine (like a Cabernet Sauvignon)
- Chicken broth (optional—if you don’t eat it, skip it)
- 1 loaf of good crusty sourdough bread
- Butter for bread
- Good sharp cheese like Parmesan or a Romano
- Chop zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, peppers and fennel bulb to roughly the same size so they cook evenly. (This is not an exact science so don’t stress over it.)
- Toss zucchini, eggplant and fennel and peppers in olive oil—just enough to coat, don’t drench. Put all the ingredients into a casserole dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Put in the oven and roast at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes or until they are golden brown and tomatoes are dripping juice.
- In a medium frying pan cook the yellow onion with a little olive oil. You can cut this however you want; I like to just dice it roughly. Cook until translucent.
- Chop and seed the plum tomatoes and put in the pan with the cooked onions. Give the tomatoes a good mash with any old spoon until they’re crushed. Turn heat on medium high and let the onions and the tomatoes simmer for about 5-7 minutes.
- Add a half a cup of red wine and simmer for about 10 minutes
- Lastly, add a cup of chicken broth. Give it a good stir and put the lid on the pan, letting it simmer on low for about 20-25 minutes.
- When both parts are completed, pour the tomato mixture over the roasted vegetables in the casserole dish.
- Place the mixture back in the oven, cover with tinfoil and let bake at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes to a half an hour.
When the ratatouille is ready, spoon it over thick slices of buttered sourdough bread and sprinkle with cheese. If the mixture is too juicy use a slotted spoon for serving or drain excess liquid. If you don’t have 4-6 hungry people save whatever you can when dinner is over, the leftover ratatouille will only get better over the next few days.