There’s salad. There’s pasta sauce. Those are things you can do with heirloom tomatoes in the summertime to make dinner.
But try this: get a loaf of really good bread. Slice the bread thickly and set it aside. Now take an eggplant (preferably purchased from the farmer’s market) and cut it into rings; cut a red heirloom tomato into rings too. Place those rings on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper…
Mario Batali’s recipe for Eggplant Parmesan–which I consider, in my humble opinion, to be the Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan–does something most Eggplant Parmesan recipes don’t: it honors the eggplant.
Instead of coating slices of eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs, frying them in a skillet, and piling them up with tomato sauce and cheese until you have a gloppy mess, here you roast the eggplant slices first–concentrating their natural flavor–and you pile those pieces up in a baking dish with tomato sauce and cheese, but because they’re not pan-fried, you don’t get a greasy, muddy cacophony; you get a harmonious whole topped with a gentle layer of breadcrumbs that crisps up in the oven. Again: The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan.
After the movers whisked my stuff away to California on Saturday, it occurred to me: “I won’t be able to cook for several weeks!”
That’s a problem for a food blogger. So while making plans with my friends Patty and Lauren, who live in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, they made mention of their C.S.A. box. (For those not in the know, C.S.A. stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You pay a set price and get a box of goodies from a farmer each week.) “I have an idea!” I said, suddenly excited. “What if I come over and cook you both dinner based on whatever’s in the box? It’ll be just like Iron Chef!” I’m sure pretty Patty and Lauren exchanged nervous glances at this point (this was over I.M.) but before I knew it, Patty wrote: “Sure.”
In September, I shared with you a picture of the Avocado Sandwich I ate at Prune for lunch (link here.) The response was enthusiastic: “Ohmgosh that looks so beautiful,” wrote Shannon. “Oh, PRETTY!” wrote Hannah. “That sandwich is a work of art!” wrote Kathryn. Again, it was a very enthusiastic response.
Last week I took Molly Orangette to Prune for lunch (I felt it was a very Orangette-like selection) and the avocado sandwich had been replaced with a ratatouille sandwich. When it arrived I snapped the picture you see above; and when I took a bite, I knew I had to do a post about it.
It’s been more than a month since I made the ratatouille you see in the above photo. I made it for a dinner party where there was lamb (a leg of lamb, actually) and, as many will tell you, ratatouille goes well with lamb. When I wrote my last book, the final chapter “Feast” featured a leg of lamb paired with a ratatouille just like you see above. In fact, it was the exact same recipe as the one you see above, a recipe from Gourmet magazine that now lives on Epicurious.
Eggplant is a funny vegetable. It’s not a vegetable that inspires passion, the way that asparagus or ramps do in springtime. It’s not a vegetable that anyone would put on a short list of favorite foods. If the farmer’s market held a prom, I’m pretty certain eggplant would be sitting by itself on a bench, chatting uneasily with a turnip, and waiting—hoping—someone might just ask it to dance.
Well, eggplant, here I am in my tux: waddya say we ménage a trios with some tomato and basil? No, no, silly eggplant, we’re not going to make love—sorry—but we ARE going to make something better: Pasta alla Norma!
Every relationship has rules. For example, in some relationships the person who makes dinner doesn’t have to do the dishes. In others, the person who cleans the bathroom doesn’t have to take out the garbage. In my relationship with Craig, there’s one overriding rule that must be obeyed or everything will crumble to pieces. That rule is: “Adam, don’t buy any more cookbooks.”
My cookbook shelf is positively bursting with cookbooks. 60% are cookbooks I purchased before meeting Craig, but the other 40% are books that are sent to me by eager publicists who, much like my publicist when my book came out, want maximum exposure for their books. I can’t say no: my policy is, I’ll accept the book (assuming it’s a book I think I’ll be interested in) and if I like it I’ll write about it. But the truth is, if it’s a text-based book there’s no way I’m reading it before the year 2020–I’m a slow reader and for me to spend time reading a book, I have to really, really, really want to read it. If it’s a cookbook, I’ll flip through it when it arrives and if I like something in it I’ll cook it and if it comes out well, I’ll blog about it. Obviously, that doesn’t happen too often because how many posts can you recall from recent memory that I cooked from a new cookbook? I can only recall one, and that wasn’t even a cookbook: it was a promotion for an upcoming cookbook.
All of that’s to say, I’m not allowed to buy cookbooks. “You don’t need any more cookbooks,” Craig will say when I’m tempted. “Where will you put it anyway? There’s no room.”
He makes very good points. And I’ve been good, I’ve followed the rule pretty dutifully for the past year. Only, over the past few months, I slowly fell for a book I flipped through again and again in the bookstore. Finally, after months of flipping, I decided to break the sacred rule. I bought it. I took it home. I hid it under the mattress. Craig didn’t know, he still doesn’t know. Thank God he doesn’t read my blog (well he does occasionally.) What book was it that made me break my pact? You must click to find out….(unless you’re reading this in some kind of reader, in which case the answer is right below this sentence….)