Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My 'Ratatouille Garden'

As I have just picked the first zucchini for the season, and last year's eggplants are fruiting again, also the capsicums, I thought I should tell you about what I call my 'Ratatouille Garden.' I started this garden in the orchard last year with eggplant, capsicum and tomatoes. This year I left out the tomatoes and planted zucchini instead....didn't really need any more tomatoes!

Capsicum, eggplant and zucchini growing happily
together under shade in the 'ratatouille garden' 
Before last year I hadn't had much luck growing eggplants because I'd only tried the normal big ones and the grubs burrowed in to them before they were ready. Last year I planted the slim, Lebanese variety and it seems that they mature before the bugs hit them too hard, and as a bonus they are quite prolific.

I have also tried to germinate some Thai Pea eggplant seeds without success. If anyone has any tips on how to get these going I would be very grateful because I have never seen seedlings of this variety in the nurseries in WA, and I've never seen the actual fruit being sold in shops. In fact, I've never even eaten pea eggplant but I'm very keen to try them. According to the seed brochure they are very prolific.

My son's girlfriend and I had a boy free night this week which meant we could cook what I call, 'chick food.' This usually means a vegetable salad containing pulses of some description, and in this instance it was  chickpeas - combined with roasted capsicum, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, chopped herbs and feta. I don't have exact measurements for this salad, and its not that important, but it goes something like this:

Ratatouille and Chickpea Salad

1 tin of chickpeas, rinsed
1 zucchini, sliced length ways about 3mm thick
2 Lebanese eggplants, halved length ways
1 red capsicum
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
8 shallots or pickling onions
100g of feta cheese
1/2 cup of pitted black olives, halved
a couple of tablespoons each of chopped parsley, mint and basil
Olive oil for brushing vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste (do this after you add the dressing because the tamari is salty)


Combine the following ingredients;

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed (or grated on a microplane which is how I always do it)

Brush the strips of zucchini with oil on both sides and cook on either a griddle pan, BBQ plate or frying pan. Cut into 2cm cubes. Do the same with the eggplants. Peel the shallots but leave whole. Cook, covered,  over low heat with some olive oil and butter until they are soft and caramelised. This will take about 10 minutes, or a bit more depending how big they are.

Blacken the capsicum skin either over flame or in a hot oven. I use a camping toaster on the gas stove for this as it is quicker than in the oven and allows more control than over a bare flame (see left). Once black all over pop into a sealed plastic container to sweat and cool....after which the blackened skin will peel off easily, leaving you with  lovely soft, sweet flesh. Cut the flesh into 2cm squares.
The capsicum sweating
in a plastic container

Combine the cooked vegetables in a bowl with the chick
peas, crumbled feta, olives, herbs and tomatoes. Pour over dressing, season and serve. This is a yummy vegetarian meal but would also be delicious with  grilled or barbecued lamb chops.

PS, This dressing sounds a bit weird but trust me, it is delicious and works really well with the salad.

Now this has nothing to do with ratatouille but I just had to show you my peaches :)  Until today we had one ripening about every two days but today there were seven! including the first white one from the other tree. I don't think there will be any recipes for peaches, they are just so perfect to eat straight off the tree. This is the tree's second summer and I am thrilled with the size and flavour of the fruit.  I estimate that I would have pulled about 120 little green fruit off this tree in order for it to support the remaining ones to reach a reasonable size. It hurt at the time but, a bit like childbirth, it was worth it in the end!

And while I'm at it, I took a photo of this impressive string of passionfruit this evening also.

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