Lucy and I were sitting in hammocks on the back porch, reminiscing about a work party we’d both gone to almost three years before. It was Christmas time. I wore a black leotard and a white lace skirt. Mostly, I remember driving home alone and feeling tragically and stupidly young while the radio crooned back to me. In retrospect, this is funny.
We talked about how the texture of everything has changed since then.
After that Christmas, things really were different. She moved away. I left town and came back, and ultimately finished school— yet despite all of this, somehow we both still ended up sitting in hammocks in my parent’s backyard.
Once, I read, there was a man who asked a famous Buddhist monk to summarize the entire Buddhist philosophy in one sentence.
“Easy,” the monk said, “Everything changes.”
Since I was a kid, I’ve hated when things changed. I don’t hate it any more, but at the same time, how do you maintain a dream of a life, as your friends fall in love and move away, your brothers morph from boys to guys to men and your parents pick up hobbies like tennis?
Through all that shifting ground, that dream, whatever it is, must be strong enough to hold water. I can imagine the details, but have trouble envisioning the big picture.
I think I want to be the kind of person who makes ratatouille.
Specifically, I want to make Yotam Ottolenghi’s ratatouille. A Palestinian chef who works in London, he wrote a excellent column about cooking vegetables for The Guardian which ultimately resulted in the book Plenty, which I bought because I need to eat more foliage.
I like this dish, very much. I doubled it on accident too. He suggests you use half an eggplant, but I didn’t know what to do with the other half, so I added it too. It’s a time intensive dish, a good thing to make if you need to pass a few hours thinking. All week I’ve been eating it over angel hair pasta, though I suppose you could put it on nearly anything.
The point is, it’s all okay.
And I’m thinking of you.
Yotam Ottolenghi’s Ratatouille from Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Reicpes from London's Ottolenghi
Note: Follow the instructions closely, over-cooking the vegetables “is the point,” according to Ottolenghi.
7 tbsp sunflower oil
2 small onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 fresh green chile, thinly sliced
2 small red peppers, cut into 1 1/4 -inch dice
1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
1 small parsnip, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
1 cup French beans, trimmed
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
1/2 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch dice
1 small potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/4 inch dice
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt and black pepper
1 cup water
chopped cilantro to garnish (optional)
Pour two-thirds of the oil into a large heavy casserole dish or a pot and place on a medium-high heat. Add the onions and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, stir in the garlic, chile and red peppers and fry for another 5 minutes. Add the squash and parsnip and continue frying 5 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, lift the vegetables out of the pot and into a medium bowl, leaving as much of the oil in the pot as possible. Top this up with the remaining oil. Add the French beans, zucchini and eggplant to the hot oil and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Return the contents of the bowl to the pot. Add the potato, tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste and plenty of salt and pepper. Stir well, then pour in the water, or just enough to half-cover the vegetables. Cover with a lid and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes. Taste the vegetables and add more salt and pepper if you like.
Finally, preheat the oven to 400 F. Use a slotted spoon to gently lift the vegetables from the pot into a large, deep roasting pan to make a layer about 1 1/4 inches thick. Pour the liquid over the vegetables and place in the oven to cook for 30 minutes. At this point all the vegetables should be very soft and most of the liquid evaporated. Garnish with cilantro, if you like, and serve.