That’s the way I feel lately. And I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about the way time expands and contracts depending on who we are, where we are and what we’re doing. Our perceptions of time depend on all the factors that define us as individuals. (There’s some great science reporting exploring the nuances of time, if you’re interested in listening.)
When we’re young, the world is new and every minute is filled with the possibility of a whole new landscape that we can map and create in our minds. We’re just beginning to sort it all out. The more we focus on the “new,” the slower we perceive time to be. Remember how summer lasted forever when we were kids? To a healthy child, every moment of every day brings yet another way to experience the world. The same happens when we travel, I think—and that’s a big part of the appeal to me.
I can spend a week at home, plodding through mundane tasks (transcribing notes?!? ever tried it?!? ugh) and time passes into obscurity. A week later, I barely recall what I did or ate or saw in the hours before. A week of nothing much new feels seven times faster than a week on the road or in the field where I’m learning new things every step of the way. Routine seems to speed up our perception of time. How to slow it down? Experts say do new things, see new sights, bring newness into your world—every day.
I think that’s what most of us want: to savor our moments. To preserve the time we have. To make it count.
It occurred to me: that’s not so different from the hopes we have for our gardens. The seasons are changing, geese are honking overhead. It is time to harvest, to put our summer yields into pots and pans, jars and bins.
This is a reward: the ability to stop time in its tracks. To capture the sweetness of a summer tomato or the freshness of bell pepper by cooking it into a sauce and preserving it for future times—colder, darker times when summer light is long gone, and so is its flavor. But then, we can pull that jar from the freezer and taste the fruits of an earlier time.
Here, I’ll offer up three garden harvest recipes in a three-part series. Today: ratatouille. Next week: sweet pepper-pine nut spread. And finally: simple tomato sauce.
Now, I make no claims to French authenticity in this recipe—but I’ve tested it on friends with French roots, and ooh la la, this dish pleased. And anyway, I’m not so much about authenticity as I am about whatever works.
A couple of keys, I’ve found: recipes vary tremendously on the suggested herbs. Some merely call for a bit of oregano or basil. But I’ve been using a hearty mixture based on this recipe. And I’ve been using fresh from the garden—because it’s here, it’s abundant, and why not? The herbs make this dish what it is.
Also: this is a use-what-you-have recipe, so there are no hard-and-fast rules about amounts. You might have one eggplant or you might have 3. You might have a pound of tomatoes, or six. Below are the amounts I used most recently.
Ratatouille (a personalized version)
4 medium-sized eggplants
2 yellow onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 large zucchini and squash (green and yellow; I also had pattypan)
6-7 medium or large tomatoes
4 bell peppers
A few glugs of red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for sautéing
1 handful fresh basil
1 handful fresh oregano
1 handful fresh rosemary
1 handful fresh summer savory
1 handful fresh thyme
1 tablespoon dried fennel
Key to ratatouille is sautéing each vegetable separately before combining and cooking in the oven. First, prepare each vegetable by chopping into small cubes or slices.
Heat a bit of the olive oil and sauté the onions until slightly browned. Remove.
Heat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, prepare the herb mixture. Place all of the herbs along with salt and fennel into a food processor (or mince with a knife) until you have a fine, aromatic mixture.
Pour all of the cooked vegetables into an oven-safe dish (I used a cast iron Dutch oven), add a glug of oil, a few glugs of red wine. Stir well. Add the herb mixture and stir. Add the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir. If the vegetables are very dry, add just a tiny bit of water. Cover and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Taste. The flavors should blend well, and the juices should not be too runny. If you want a creamier texture, add a bit of butter and enjoy.