A very wise woman once told me to “find my HAPPY”, I sat on this statement for quite some time and sought to think of what my ‘happy’ was. More importantly, What did I want my ‘happy’ to be? What was making me happy in my daily life? Then I realised , I was doing it every single day! I was cooking. Not just cooking but creating simple but yummy meals for the ones I loved. Not only creating, but growing the food that what was in the recipes, or maybe it was the other way around. Growing my garden and creating meals from the surplus.
I find this the most humble and rewarding part of my life, to grow something from a seed or seedling to then watch it grow into a glorious red ripe tomato or lettuce selection for my salads. Even the humongous zucchinis that are so prolific at the moment. We all cannot keep up with the cooking and eating of those!
The only thing better than growing a vegetable garden, is doing it with your bestie! I live on a small block with not enough room to grow much more than a few potted herbs, or a small tomato vine. Luckily my bestie has very similar affliction to growing her own produce too and offered a large allotment at her place for us to set about our dual-family veggie patch. With a lot of trial and error and also with the birth of 3 children over the years, we have managed to set up a very productive garden. We all can be happy in that space, in the sunshine growing food for our families.
Sitting in the garden pulling weeds, or trimming the vines is so therapeutic, a space where I don’t think about everything all the time. Usually my mind is racing a million miles an hour, with to-do lists swirling around , things that I need to do, things that haven’t been done. Everyone else’s lists too! Kids, school, sport, meetings, catch-ups, work, timetables ,the most asked questions in our house and the thing that stumps me daily –what’s for dinner?? The lists just go on and on!
The garden quietens me. It keeps me in the moment and helps ground me in the simplicity of the now.
The best thing of all, is that our children all know what a potato plant looks like and when to harvest it. They know how corn looks standing straight in the hot sun with all that silken fibres drooping from the tops. They understand why we have compost bins under the sink and how that is transformed to liquid gold to feed the soil and the WORMS! They especially LOVE the worms!
So at this time of year when the garden is at its fullest and there is a surplus of just about everything, I love to make the most beautiful, easy and versatile summer dish… Ratatouille. This is basically a summer vegetable stew, originally made with whatever the locals had in season. Mine is generally made with Eggplant, Zucchini, capsicums, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs and using the best olive oil you can find.
The reason why I love this recipe so much is that you need not be precise in quantities, how you chop the veg OR what you put in it. If you’ve got heaps of carrots, chuck them in, hate eggplant-leave it out, so it’s super easy. PLUS it goes on to make so many different meals. I usually make a big batch, eat some of it that night ,then freeze the rest for other dishes. It’s a perfect side accompaniment to any meat, chicken or fish dish. It’s also great with fried haloumi. It can be put on toasted bruschetta and finished with parmesan cheese or even tossed through a pasta for a quick but very tasty mid-week meal. It’s even beautiful put into a small baking dish where you crack in fresh eggs into scooped out wells you’ve made and baked for a beautiful brunch dish served with a yummy organic sour dough loaf. Mmmm I’m salivating now! Hehe…
So here is my recipe for this beautiful summer vegetable dish. I hope you can also make it using all the fresh abundant vegetables coming from your own garden, but if you can’t, visit a local farmers market or bag yourself some organic produce, I always find the vegetables more flavoursome. Just remember the most important ingredient is love… corny but it does make it taste better when your heart is in it, also a wine may or may not help.
Nicole’s Veggie garden stew (or Ratatouille to the purists)
1 large onion,chopped fine
4 large red tomatoes (or equivalent in cherry tomatoes)
4 bulbs garlic finely chopped
S&P to taste
Cut up all your vegetables in 2-3 cm cubes. Then take a large casserole dish and put on a medium heat. Add 3-4 tablespoons of good quality olive oil , throw in the chopped onions and cook until soft but not brown. At this point add all the vegetables, garlic and season with S&P and add a good couple of pinches of dried oregano.
Keep the heat on medium to low and gently cook, stirring every now and then. This can take from 1 to 1 ½ hours to cook. There is quite a lot of water in the zucchinis and eggplant, so you should not need to add any water, but if you feel it’s a little dry add ¼ cup.
When you’re happy that the vegetables are cooked through, some start to break up creating a beautiful sauce, add your fresh torn herbs. I’ve said use basil but if you’ve got fresh oregano or Marjoram they work well too. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Serve warm as a side or as suggested above. I have even on occasion eaten it cold straight out the fridge!!
If you’ve got any leftover pop it into the freezer for later as it cooks up well after defrosting.
I hope you get a chance to try this simple but delicious meal and feel free to comment. I’d love to see some pics.
That Food Connection