Thursday, August 30, 2012

Alice Waters' Grilled Ratatouille

The first time I had this meal was in my "happy place"...aka Hilton Head Island, where my family has been vacationing since I was an infant. 

Hilton Head is literally my favorite place to visit, most likely because I have so many good memories. For those of you who have never visited, Hilton Head is an island off the coast of South Carolina, only about an hour away from Savannah, Georgia. That, for any travel bugs, is about a 10 hour drive from where I grew up. For you golf gurus, Hilton Head is where the Heritage golf tournament takes place...that is, the course that ends with an amazing view of the Harbor Town lighthouse.

And, as I said, my parents have been taking my brother and I down there since we were babies. I have numerous pictures of me in a baby bjorn as an infant, testing out the ocean water with my dad holding me up (clearly walking wasn't my strong suit at that point) and in the back of my dad's bike. Biking is the best way to get around HHI--there are bike paths that criss cross almost the entire island.

Hilton Head is where my obsession with cooking started. When we were little kids, each week-long vacation we took was really considered my mum's vacation--her vacation from doing two little kids laundry, her vacation from schlepping us to practices and classes, and her vacation from cooking dinner for four every single night. So one night during each week's vacation, my brother and I would have a night that it was our responsibility to cook.

My brother always cooked Mexican. In our middle school, we had "cycle" where, for a month each school year, we had a period where we took a different class. One month we'd have cooking, one month sewing, one month wood shop, etc. Well my brother is two years older than me, so he experienced many more cooking cycles than I did, and had cornered the market on fajitas and Mexican lasagna.

Me on the other hand? I was little. I hadn't had cooking. I wasn't even allowed to put things in the oven and I definitely wasn't allowed near a sharp knife. But I did love pizza. Enter...Boboli pizza crust, refrigerated pizza sauce and grated mozzarella. My specialty? The pizza bar. 

Now don't get me wrong, my brother and I were not cooking a dinner for four unchaperoned. That was my dad's job. It was also my dad's job to grill the other five nights of our vacation. But for one night each, my brother and I got hours of undivided attention from our dad where we would get messy and pretend to know what we were doing and did I mention get messy? Most importantly, we each got time with our dad without our sibling or even our mother interrupting.

This tradition of splitting up the cooking on vacation has stuck around. A few years ago, we took a whole family vacation to Hilton Head the day after Christmas to spend New Year's Eve there--my parents, my brother and his girlfriend, me and my current boyfriend. We biked, we shopped (after Christmas sales, duh!), we visited our favorite spots (Harbor Town, Shelter Cove), we danced the night away on NYC and, of course, we cooked. A lot. 

Each couple was given our own nights to cook. This wonderful recipe was introduced to me by my brother and his girlfriend (a fellow Alice Waters obsessee), because it involves minimal hands on work with maximum flavor. Ever since, it has been on of my favorite recipes to make during the summer...or, if you're lucky enough to be in Hilton Head in December, during the winter.

The recipe is adapted from Alice Waters, the pioneer of Californian cuisine, organic food and the local food movements. Commonly called the "mother of American food" and whose restaurant. Chez Panisse, is consistently ranked in the World's 50 Best Restaurants. The recipe can be found in her absolutely AMAZING (I could not recommend it more) cookbook The Art of Simple Food

Get it. And make this recipe. And all of the other recipes in the book. You'll thank me.

Alice Waters' Grilled Vegetable Ratatouille


One large eggplant, or two small
Two zucchini
Two summer squash
Two red peppers
One large onion
Four cloves of garlic
Two tomatoes


1. Slice your vegetables (except for the tomatoes) into pieces that will fit on the grill without dropping down. Brush all sides with oil.

2. Place on the grill until cooked through and charred slightly (this will give it that great smoky flavor).

3. While the vegetables are grilled, mince your garlic cloves. In a large pot (I used a pasta one) heat oil over medium-high heat and saute the garlic. Chop your tomatoes and basil and add to the pot. Let the tomatoes start sweating so they release their juices.

4. When the rest of the veggies come off the grill, chop into bite size pieces and add to the pot. Cook the veggies for about 15 minutes more, stirring periodically, so that they combine.

Then serve! I've eaten this as a main, over jasmine rice, with crusty grilled french bread, as the basis for a taco...literally any way you could imagine. And, even better, it is absolutely amazing reheated! This is one of the dinners I make on Sundays during the summer (I do Alice Waters' regular ratatouille, in which the veggies roast, in the summer) and eat throughout the week as lunch or as my veggie side with dinner. 

Friendly will become obsessed.

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