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The Commons
Photo 1

Dot Read/The Commons

We're in that glorious time of year when we can eat most of our meals from locally sourced food. With just a little planning and time, a lot of this surplus can be set aside for use this winter.

Food and Drink

A fall treat for the rest of the year

The perfect way to preserve the bounty of vegetables available this time of the year? Ratatouille.

Dorothy Read and her family run the Readmore Inn in Bellows Falls, where she has made these recipes for her guests.

Originally published in The Commons issue #424 (Wednesday, September 6, 2017). This story appeared on page C1.



BELLOWS FALLS—It is the moment you’ve waited for all year. Your garden and local farmstands offer an overflow of tomatoes, squashes, peppers, corn, onions, carrots, and greens. For a short time, it seems every fruit and vegetable is there at your fingertips.

You know it is fleeting, but what can you do with all this bounty before it disappears?

Images of our grandmothers canning over hot stoves for hours don’t often translate into the modern home cook’s life, but you can take many easy steps to enjoy and save some of the food treasures of right now.

* * *

Homemade tomato sauce freezes beautifully, but many people don’t realize they can just tuck whole tomatoes in containers in the freezer for use later in the winter in soups and stews and casseroles.

Texture changes on these frozen tomatoes, of course, but summer flavor abounds, and nothing could be simpler if you are stressed for time. The peelings on some varieties may toughen, so you may want to peel them before freezing.

Frozen corn retains most of its flavor. Buy extra when it is at its best at this time of year. Cut the kernels off the cob and freeze flat on a cookie sheet. Pop them in a freezer container or a zipper-lock bag for use all winter, removing only what you need. The kernels stay separate. This is a great technique for berries and fresh herb leaves as well.

You can find massive bouquets of fragrant basil right now, as well as the potent new garlic. Put them together with olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese, and you have a delicious pesto for the freezer. Nothing tastes more like summer.

* * *

When the peppers finally turn red and orange and yellow, that’s my cue to start making ratatouille. It’s my favorite way to preserve the surplus, and it freezes beautifully for use all year.

Ratatouille is a French country stew originally created at this bountiful time of year, and part of its ease is that it is all about what’s available — the ratio is not that important. In fact, I omit eggplant because I’m allergic to it.

Use what’s on hand, even potatoes or diced greens, but always include those peppers, tomatoes, squash, and garlic, and use a blend of dried or fresh herbes de Provence that includes lavender and fennel.

I’ve had ratatouille in high-end restaurants where the vegetables were precisely prepared in tiny quarter-inch dice. I’ve also had it where they were sliced on a mandolin and arranged artfully in a casserole dish. I know my patience will dwindle toward the end of a chopping session, so I prefer the rustic approach of a rough dice. It is, after all, a peasant dish.

Use as a side, or top it with a piece of lightly sautéed fish, chicken, or tofu. It makes a great pasta sauce, soup base, filling for a tortilla or crêpe, or even a pizza topping. You can eat it hot, at room temperature, or cold. The dish also pairs well with eggs in omelets or frittatas. Eggs poached in the stew are delicious served any meal of the day.

My own spin on this classic is to roast most of the vegetables first to bring out even more flavor. It really makes a difference. I add sweet roasted garlic as well and let the whole thing simmer to let the flavors marry.

The best part is that it can be made with all stunning local ingredients at their best.

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille

¶2–3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided

¶1 red pepper, diced

¶1 orange pepper, diced

¶1 purple onion, diced

¶1 small Japanese eggplant, diced

¶1 or 2 zucchini, diced

¶1 or 2 yellow summer squash, diced

¶1 carrot, small dice

¶2 medium leeks, whites and some light green, sliced

¶1 head new garlic, divided

¶1 Tbsp. dried herbes de Provence or 2 Tbsp. fresh blend (see instructions below)

¶2 luscious large tomatoes, diced, juice included (approximately 3 cups)

¶2 bay leaves

¶1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

¶Salt

¶Pepper

¶Fresh basil to garnish

After dicing everything, you should have about 6 or 7 cups of peppers, onion, eggplant, and summer squash. You should have about 3 cups of tomatoes, and 2 cups of leeks, but more or less is fine, too.

Separate the cloves from the garlic head, mince a couple, and set aside, leaving the others whole for roasting.

Place 1 Tbsp. olive oil (or a little more) in a large roasting pan and add the peppers, onion, eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash. Mix it all up, add a sprinkle of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and place the whole garlic cloves on top.

Roast for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, turn, and roast an additional 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are fragrant, softened, and just starting to brown.

Remove the garlic cloves, mash, and set aside.

While these vegetables are cooking, heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy pot like mine, which is enameled and cast iron. Once the oil is hot, add the carrot and leeks.

Sauté until softened, add the minced garlic and herbes de Provence, and cook for an additional minute or so, until the fragrance is released.

Stir in the tomatoes and bay leaves, cook for a couple more minutes, and add the reserved vegetables and mashed garlic. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper, bring to a simmer, and cover, leaving the lid ajar a bit, then place in a 300-degree oven for an hour. You can also simmer this on the burner at the lowest setting.

Stir in the vinegar, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. To serve, garnish with fresh basil or parsley, or a dollop of fresh pesto.

Herbes de Provence

You can find many blends already prepared, and some are quite good. You can easily make your own mixture.

Basic ingredients include:

¶thyme

¶savory

¶basil

¶fennel

¶rosemary (not too much)

¶tarragon

¶lavender

You can add any lovely summer herb you like, including:

¶marjoram

¶oregano

If using fresh herbs, use twice as much as dried.

Basil pesto

In a food processor, combine and process:

¶2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed

¶2–4 four garlic cloves (adjust according to your liking and the size of the cloves)

¶{1/3} cup Italian pine nuts or walnuts

¶{1/2} cup grated Parmesan cheese

Drizzle in, then process until smooth:

¶{3/4} cup olive oil of choice.

I usually add:

¶a squeeze of lemon juice

Freeze what you don’t use. No fussing — just place in a container and pop in the freezer.

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