One of the spectacular things about living in a place where there are four distinct seasons is reveling in that change–particularly since this is a fairly new concept to me. The changing of the light. The changing of the weather and waking up to super crisp, almost cold mornings. The changing of the leaves. And the changing of the ingredients available at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
After having breakfast with friends visiting from San Antonio on a recent Saturday morning, the foursome regrouped at the busy farmers market. Like us, this couple has also found Santa Fe to be a respite from everyday life in a big city. They visit at least twice a year and we were glad to be able to reconnect again in our favorite city and at our favorite farmers market.
While strolling through the market–the sheer numbers of people, stalls and culinary options, my friend and I were in awe with the variety, quality and immense color. (Yes, friends. Even after living here for almost a year, I am still amazed at the phenomenal farmers market and proud to support their work to feed the community in such a profound and beautiful way.)
A rainbow of color dressed the tables of my favorite farmers. This was one of the first week’s I can recall when I loaded up on colors other than green (kale and lettuce) and orange (carrots). I filled my big bolsa with deep purple eggplant, dark green zucchini, yellowish-orange and bright red heirloom tomatoes, purple and red and yellow bell peppers, light green Napa cabbage, white peaches, red and purple potatoes along with yellow and red onions.
And, as we perused the market, the smell of roasting peppers was like a magnet pulling us towards the bustling Romero Farms stand. Matt Romero, of Romero Farms, was hard at work roasting the famous Hatch chile along with many other chiles he grows, while entertaining tourists visiting the market for perhaps the first time. We bid our friends farewell and off we went.
When I got home, I quickly realized I had, perhaps intuitively, collected all of the ingredients to make ratatouille, which celebrates the seasons in a colorful and delectable way. This hearty vegetable dish from Provence, France was originally made by poor farmers in the summer who clearly knew what they were doing by cooking the vegetables at their peak of freshness. I am merely following their lead and keeping in the tradition.
After chopping the eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes, I tossed everything with olive oil, fresh rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper, put it on two baking sheets and threw it in the oven. An hour and a half later, the house smelled like an Italian grandmother’s kitchen and this rich and golden roasted summer-fall vegetable melange was presented to me to do with as I pleased. I tasted it, let it cool and put it in the fridge because everything is better after the flavors marry overnight.
To squeeze in a bit more time with our friends from San Antonio, we invited them over for Sunday afternoon lunch and I served room temperature ratatouille as an appetizer with sausages that David grilled to perfection. The locally-grown and roasted vegetables had deepened in color and flavor and shined a spotlight on two of my favorite things about Santa Fe–the farmers market and the distinctive seasons.
The truth is, no matter where you live, this versatile ratatouille is a showstopping appetizer, entree or side dish that appeals to everyone. Serve piping hot over rice, pasta or creamy polenta for an extraordinary (vegetarian) meal, add to salad for a tasty lunch, spoon warm over toast and top with a poached egg for an even better version of the over-done, breakfast favorite avocado toast or serve at room temperature along with grilled bread for a stunning appetizer.
Whether it is the adaptability, the bold colors or the sensational amalgamation of flavors on the palate that wins people over, ratatouille takes zero effort to make (chopping doesn’t count) and, after some time in the oven, magically transforms into a rich, deeply flavorful and colorful concoction that will have people thinking about it long after the meal is over.With this typical Provençal dish, history speaks for itself, so why change anything? When it comes to cooking, always trust the French and their classic culinary traditions.
As summer and fall converge, celebrate the end and the beginning of the seasons with this rich and colorful assortment of vegetables that were meant to be together. All it takes is some chopping, time in the oven and an overnight stay in the fridge for this classic Italian staple to develop intense flavors and wow your family and friends. Enjoy hot over polenta, pasta or rice, serve at room temperature as an appetizer with crostini or use as a topping for your toast in the morning.
- 2 medium eggplants cut into 3/4" cubes
- 3 medium zucchini and/or squash cut into 3/4" cubes
- 4 medium heirloom tomatoes cut into 3/4" cubes
- 2 colored bell peppers purple, yellow, red or orange
- 2 small onions red and yellow, cut into 3/4" cubes or larger
- 4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled and root tip removed
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 springs fresh rosemary removed from the stem and chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- fresh basil when plating
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place all of the cut vegetables, garlic and herbs in a big bowl. Drizzle with 1/4 cup olive oil and toss well. Add the salt and toss again to combine.
Cover baking sheets loosely with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
Remove the foil, lower the temperature to 400 and let the vegetables cook 30 more minutes. Check on the vegetables during this 30 minutes, as you might find the vegetables are golden and cooked to your liking sooner.
Remove from the oven and remove the thyme sprigs. Though you can eat it now, I prefer to let the ratatouille cool thoroughly and then refrigerate overnight, as the flavors will meld and get even better in the days to come.
When ready to serve, you can heat it up in a skillet or serve at room temperature and top with fresh basil. Serve over polenta, pasta or rice or serve with crostini as a veggie-froward appetizer that everyone will love. Refrigerate any leftovers.