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 herbplants 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 ripevegetables, and ringed by an imposing 8-foot fence. It does look somewhat likea prison yard, but the fence keeps the deer out and me rolling in freshveggies.
Sometimes rolling may seem like an understatement, it can bemore like drowning, not that I mind! Picking up bags FULL of vine ripenedtomatoes, crisp cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and spectacularly deeply colored peppers is asexciting for me as a trip down Fifth avenue can be for those more prone tobeing fashionable.
Of course there is one significant difference between thesevegetables and a Prada bag. The Prada bag can simply get thrown in the closetand forgotten. These bags need to be cleaned, processed and creatively dealtwith, 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 inthe French Country side. One that thrives on abundance, and is oh so forgivingof 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 riceor pasta, I love it’s flexibility and the fact that it’s flavor can improve fora day or three so I never grow tired of it.
I’ve included my standard recipe for Ratatouille here. Youmight find that you have a touch more onion or a touch less eggplant, or visaversa, than the recipe calls for. Don’t be too concerned about precise quantitieshere, just focus on the techniques and when you’re done make sure you take thetime to enjoy your handiwork.
I recently did just that. I spent some time in my mother’skitchen last weekend salvaging vegetables from the garden on a rainy Saturdayand made a huge batch of ratatouille for all of us to share. On Sunday theweather cleared up and share it we did, served over fettuccine with a sprinkleof Parmiggiano and the aforementioned grilled lamb chops. It was spectacularand the wine pairing, a 2007 Delas Cotes du Rhone that I stocked up on forevents like this, was a perfect partner!
I have always been an enthusiastic fan of the Monsanto Chianti's and I heartily recommend their Riserva. They're fairly priced and have an earthy complexity that is ideally suited to compliment the complexity and layers of flavors one finds in ratatouille.
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.
A nice Joven or Tinto will be all about the lovely raspberry fruit that Tempranillo, the main grape of the Rioja blend, is famous for. One that I've found, and that is actually 100% Tempranillo, is the Cortijo III. It's packed with berry fruit and has a nice spicy edge and hints of licorice that offer a nice contrast to the sweet, earthy flavors of the Ratatouille.
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