Living in Manhattan I don’t have a vegetable garden per se. Ok I don’t have a vegetable garden at all though I have killed several herb plants on my windowsill.
My mother on the other hand, living as she does in Connecticut, does have a vegetable garden. It’s large and glorious, brimming with sweet ripe vegetables, and ringed by an imposing 8-foot fence. It does look somewhat like a prison yard, but the fence keeps the deer out and me rolling in fresh veggies.
Sometimes rolling may seem like an understatement, it can be more like drowning, not that I mind! Picking up bags FULL of vine ripened tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and spectacularly deeply colored peppers is as exciting for me as a trip down Fifth avenue can be for those more prone to being fashionable. Of course there is one significant difference between these vegetables and a Prada bag. The Prada bag can simply get thrown in the closet and forgotten. These bags need to be cleaned, processed and creatively dealt with, lest I face a week, or more, of Greek salad for dinner.
Ratatouille seems to be the ideal solution, ok I cheated, the cucumbers are being pickled. A dish inspired no doubt by days like this in the French Country side. One that thrives on abundance, and is oh so forgiving of a little less here or a little more there. It’s one of my favorite dishes. Whether on it’s own, warm or cold, paired with a lamb chop or served with rice or pasta, I love it’s flexibility and the fact that it’s flavor can improve for a day or three so I never grow tired of it.
I’ve included my standard recipe for Ratatouille here. You might find that you have a touch more onion or a touch less eggplant, or visa versa, than the recipe calls for. Don’t be too concerned about precise quantities here, just focus on the techniques and when you’re done make sure you take the time to enjoy your handiwork.
I recently did just that. I spent some time in my mother’s kitchen last weekend salvaging vegetables from the garden on a rainy Saturday and made a huge batch of ratatouille for all of us to share. On Sunday the weather cleared up and share it we did, served over fettuccine with a sprinkle of Parmiggiano and the aforementioned grilled lamb chops. It was spectacular and the wine pairing, a 2007 Delas Cotes du Rhone that I stocked up on for events like this, was a perfect partner!
As I mentioned, a nice Rioja is also a great choice. There are various levels of aging that are mandated for Rioja, and each wine has information on the label that can help you identify one you might enjoy.
With this dish I would look for a wine labeled as Joven or Tinto, the two youngest styles of Rioja. As you progress to Reservas and Gran Reservas you'll find wines more influenced by oak aging, featuring notes of vanilla, baking spices and even coconut.
No matter which wine you choose, just remember to make sure you're happy with the combination. Wine and food pairing is simple when that's your goal!
Gregory Dal Piaz