A BIRTHDAY DINNER…
Gigi’s birthday was two weeks ago, although it seems like it was just last week. Now that she’s three years old she is sleeping without Pull-Ups during naps, being a stellar big sister to Baby Lu, and she started drawing circle people. I love her crazy little circle people… you know the ones: circle, four (or sometimes “eleventeen”) lines representing limbs, some eyes, maybe an eyebrow. She’s also been helping me cook and taking more of a part in menu planning, which is really fun.
For her birthday dinner I decided to let her browse through some of my cookbooks and pick whatever she wanted for dinner. She looked through My Father’s Daughter and Tyler’s Ultimate which both have lovely pictures for her to look at. She looked and looked, taking forever to choose in the way only a toddler can make a single decision last forever. Finally she looked up from the books, abandoning them, and said, “I want Ratatouille and that Garlic Bread!” She was referring to my “World-Famous” Garlic Bread and my version of Ratatouille, which is roasted rather than cooked on the stovetop.
We have been watching Ratatouille a lot and making it fairly often around here lately. It’s perfect to make during a lazy Sunday, and we use the leftovers for lunches for a couple of days. My favorite way to serve it is to take some chewy, springy bread, drizzled with fruity olive oil, pop it under the broiler for a few minutes until it’s golden and crisp, smear the warm bread with a bit of tart goat cheese and top it with the warm, or room temperature Ratatouille and some freshly torn basil. G prefers hers served alongside some pasta that’s been tossed with a bit of pasta water and goat cheese until the goat cheese goats the pasta like an alfredo sauce. For her birthday we chose Linguini pasta since the main characters name in Ratatouille is Linguini.
As soon as Kyle got home from work on New Year’s Eve, G and I hopped in the car and headed to the store. I let her bring her “copping shop”, also known as a shopping cart to those of us with more developed language skills, that she had been given by her Grandparents for Christmas.* I don’t recommend brining your child, who’s high on birthday fumes and wearing a tiara and sash, to the grocery store with their own cart. I’m pretty sure she thought she was on SuperMarket Sweep. Somehow we made it through our shopping trip and got home without either of us getting arrested, or getting stitches, which at times felt like real possibilities.
Once we were home G cozied up on the couch to watch Ratatouille, and I set about making dinner. I roast the vegetables in “layers”, letting each one cook and caramelize before adding the next one so it takes a little while. While it roasted Kyle and I let G open a couple of gifts, sipped our glasses of wine and watched Ratatouille with her. I hope that, as she continues to grow up, she remembers choosing menu items, helping to cook, and that dinnertime was something special in her house… it’s something special to me.
1 pound eggplant (2 large or 3 medium eggplants) cut into 1-2” pieces
3 zucchinis, sliced into 1” half moons
2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium yellow onions, cut into 2” chunks
1 anchovy filet, smashed with a fork or 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf very small sprig fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
about 3/4 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil, roughly torn
Preheat your oven to 425º F. Place all the sliced eggplant and zucchini on a large roasting sheet, toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and black pepper. Roast for 45 minutes.
In a small bowl, toss the onion pieces with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Remove the eggplant and zucchini from the oven and add the onions, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary to the roasting pan, tossing the vegetables together gently with the herbs and return to the oven for 30 minutes. Toss together the tomatoes, garlic, anchovy filet or paste, tomato paste, a bit of olive oil, red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt and some pepper together in a bowl.
Remove the vegetables from the oven, add the tomatoes, garlic, etc. to the roasting pan, toss gently and return to the often for another 30-45 minutes, until the tomatoes have softened and the ratatouille is nice and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and thyme stems.
Serve with bread that’s been drizzled with a bit of olive oil, toasted under the broiler and smeared with goat cheese. Alternatively, prepare some pasta, reserve a bit of the pasta water, and toss the pasta, a couple tablespoons of pasta water at a time, and a few ounces of goat cheese all together until the cheese melts and sticks to the pasta. Top the toast or pasta with the ratatouille, sprinkle with a bit of roughly torn basil and dig in.
*This Melissa & Doug Metal Shopping cart was a serious upgrade from her little plastic one. It’s awesome and she uses it all the time. It’s a quality kids’ toy, and brilliantly, it has breaks built in so if your child climbs in (or more likely shoves there baby sister into it) it won’t move. G loves to use it when it’s clean up time, she loads all her toys in it and carts them where they need to go. It helps make pick up time less of a battle.