(With apologies and homage to Monty Python)
I haven’t written about cooking for a while. For those new readers, I enjoy cooking but do so for enjoyment with the claim that “I only cook for those I love.” Cooking is not only an art but almost a religious experience in the very real sense. At Catholic Mass, the bread and wine are offered; the bread, “which earth has given and human hands have made” and the wine, “fruit of the vine and work of human hands.” Food is a gift we receive, add a little of ourselves and then share in order to nurture others.
In my case it is also a form of expression. I vary my recipes according to mood, whatever else will be at the table, and a variety of other factors both real and imagined. Here is a simple recipe that I came up with (although I’m sure it is so basic that to many people it may be a staple.) However, as summer begins to yield garden produce, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share.
Our garden is giving us tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini, which are the key ingredients. After surviving the winter on Roma or canned tomatoes, the flavor just screams “Summer!”
Steve’s Ratatouille-ish Vegetable Dish
1 Onion, Chopped
2 TBS Minced Garlic
Tomatoes (3 or 4 large or 3 cans of diced tomatoes) If you use fresh tomatoes remove skins.
2 TBS Jalapenos or Green Chiles, chopped
3 grocery store sized Summer Squash and/or Zucchini Squash. Chop into ¼ – ½ inch slices, discarding both end pieces.
Cajun Spice Mix (I prefer Tony Chachere’s Extra Spice)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper or 1 tsp. Green Peppercorns
In summer I make this in a wok on the side burner of the grill in order to keep the kitchen cool. The wok has the advantage of needing less oil than flat pans, and the base ring fits perfectly on the burner.
Heat the olive oil until it just starts to smoke with the burner set to high. Add garlic and onion and sauté until caramelized. Add Squash slices and sauté together for a few minutes. Use a small dash of white wine to deglaze the pan.
Add diced tomatoes and reduce heat. Let simmer for about 20 minutes stirring from time to time.
This is the basic dish, but it needs some character. Here are some ideas as to where you can take it.
Add Mushrooms and sliced black olives. Season with basil, oregano or mixed Italian spices. Serve with Italian bread and seasoned olive oil for dipping the bread.
Season with ginger or five-spice and add sliced water chestnuts and bean sprouts.
There are an endless number of variations; please feel free to post your ideas to the comments. The key is to make it personal and to cook something outside other than just the usual burgers so you can enjoy a cool kitchen in which to dine.