Monday, August 31, 2009

Good things in small spaces


A visit to Hook Mountain Growers
Dr. Pamela Yee and her husband Dr. Charlie Paolino have taken on a life project dear to their hearts. They have converted a portion of their sprawling Nyack, NY suburban backyard into a magnificent kitchen garden. It's more of a mini-farm with a wide range of vegetables and herbs thriving in terraced raised beds. Pam calls her project "homesteading". I call it amazing!
My recent visit to see what a small garden could yield was well rewarded with a perfect sunny day, an eyeful of beautiful bounty and an armload of freshly picked produce.

Butters the bull dog guards the tomato harvest

Pam and her husband devote many hours to the land and I envied the peace and tranquility of their natural back-to-the-land lifestyle so close to NY City. The abundance is impressive and not withstanding the devastation of the tomato blight the couple are able to sell their produce to friends and neighbors on the weekends.
I purchased several pounds of tomatillos for a salsa I planned to make for a large party I was catering in the Hamptons. I picked up a few more vegetables to bring home for my family (Pamela allowed me to choose the most gorgeous peppers right off the plant!) and came home with a grilled ratatouille in mind. The classic French vegetable stew is always an inspiration when the harvest comes in. Rather than slow cooking on the stove, I opted to grill the traditional mix of vegetables. After grilling they are roughly chopped and and then briefly simmered w/ garlic oil and fresh herbs. This can be made the day before and allowed to sit overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Pretty, simple and delicious. Thank you Hook Mountain Growers!

Grilled Ratatouille
The key to this recipe is to keep it rustic. Use the vegetables and herbs you have on hand. I like spicy so I always add some hot peppers. Amanda, the final dish is loaded with flavor and very robust, with a smoky undertone from the grilling. What would you suggest for a compatible wine?

Vegetables before grilling and after

1 eggplant sliced into 1 inch disks
1 onion sliced into quarters w/ root attached to keep pieces together
2 small bell peppers left whole
1 zucchini sliced on an angle into wedges
2 medium tomatoes cut in half
1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
Olive oil (about 6 tablespoons)
3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
small handful of fresh herbs roughly chopped (parsley, tarragon, oregano, basil in any combination)

Brush the vegetables w/ olive oil and grill over hot coals till tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove charred skin from the peppers and roughly chop all the vegetables and set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pan and add the garlic. Simmer garlic till it begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables and the white wine and herbs and simmer for another 10 minutes till flavors combine and wine begins to evaporate. I aggressively mash down the larger pieces of vegetables with the end of a wooden spatula while the stew simmers to further "rusticate" the dish.

Remove from pan and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend (I can't wait that long and always eat some right away!). Can be served warm or cold.
serves 4

Deb, this looks and sounds absolutely wonderful! Right away, I think of a red. Something with lots of earth but not too powerful as to overwhelm the vegetables. My first thought would be Cabernet Franc, originally from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France. While it is now grown successfully around the world, I would choose something from the Loire. Chinon is the red wine, made from Cabernet Franc, which comes from this specific area. The wine typically has beautiful aromatics, and has that hint of tobacco which should work well with the smoky flavors from the grill. One of the leading domaines in the area is Couly Dutheil, a favorite of mine. Their Chinon is deep and dark, with lots of complexity - definitely a "food wine". The rusticity of the wine would do wonders with that same quality of the dish.

With this recipe, my mind also wanders to thoughts of Malbec. Originally from the southeast of France, Argentina does wonders with this varietal as well. While the grape is used mostly for blending in France, with the exception of Cahors, it has achieved great success in Argentina due to the hotter climate. And great bargains abound. One of my favorite Argentine winemakers is Susana Balbo, who in my book, can do no wrong. This seems like a perfect combination for an impromptu get-together with friends!


  1. I made this over the weekend for a crowd so I doubled the recipe. It was delicious, and easy to make and everyone loved it!!

  2. I made this as well and I think the grilling really lends a more complex flavor to the dish. And you're right, the leftovers were even better! Thanks for coming by our little homestead and glad you liked your veggies!


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