End of Season Inspiration

There were just a couple of reasonably-sized Lavender Touch eggplant left in the Vermillion gardens last weekend when I cleared out the rest of the heat-loving crops.

I popped them in a bag along with some of that fantastic Prezzemolo Gigante Italian parley and brought them back to Big Stone County along with my child, my dog, some Tuscan kale, and my new (to me) pickup topper.

Last night, I was inspired by them–and by the tub of sweet peppers lingering on the counter–and I decided to make a ratatouille to warm up the chilly night.

It’s a bit of comfort food for me–all those nightshades combined and cooked down in a spicy, rosemary-spiked sauce–and then spooned over creamy polenta and sprinkled with slightly smoky cheese.

It started with olive oil, sliced onion, and chopped sweet pepper in the big pan.  Then the eggplant in large-ish dice, and several (like, 5 large) crushed and chopped cloves of garlic.  A whole, minced ripe cayenne pepper went in as well as a big sprinkling of dried rosemary.

Once the veggies were starting to soften and brown/stick a little on the bottom, I poured in about half a cup of red wine and stirred to let the veggies soak it up.

Because some of these veggies tend to have a little edge of bitterness (which I don’t mind), I sprinkled just a little sugar over the top–maybe a tablespoon, tops.  And when the wine was starting to evaporate into a thick sauce, I added a pint of home-canned tomato sauce, turned the heat low, and let that simmer.

Next,  I pulled out a handful of that fantastic parsley, washed, and minced it.  I threw a lot of it in the ratatouille, but there was a lot there, so I put some aside.

Once the eggplant stew was simmering and pretty well finished, I realized maybe I wanted some kind of neutral, calming bed to put it on.  Pasta would be OK, but I have gotten kind of tired of it.  Rice is good, but all I have is brown rice, and that takes awhile.

Polenta.  Polenta is perfect.  And it’s traditional.  And it’s pretty fast, too.

I had a bag of Bob’s Red Mill polenta in my cupboard, and I had to smile when I pulled it out and saw its subtitle: corn grits.

Ah, yes.  New Orleans is sticking with me.  I’d already started some red beans to soak for weekend red beans and rice, and here I’m craving grits.  It’s not the worst thing, I guess.  If I was craving seafood, it’d end up being sardines from a can.

Some of the parsley went in the 3 cups water/1 cup grits batch, along with a chicken bouillon cube.  At the end, when it was nice and thick, I mixed in some butter and shredded provolone cheese.

With the ratatouille simmered down to a thick, savory stew, and the polenta cooling a bit and setting up to a more solid consistency, I looked around my kitchen (it was nine at night by that point) and wondered what I’d got myself into–the compost bowl full again and dirty dishes everywhere.

But then I sat down to this lovely dinner I’d created (and then I had seconds) and it all went away. Well, at least I forgot about it for a time.

There’s even leftovers for lunch today.

Local ingredients: eggplant, onions, sweet peppers, cayenne, garlic, parsley.



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