Monday, July 28, 2008
When I was younger, summers meant long days reading in bed past noon, listening to my dad mow the lawns outside and looking forward to warm evening al fresco dinners by the grill. My dad was a master of meats, firing up the biggest steaks and racks of lamb over the permanent charcoal grill in our covered patio whenever we found a reason to celebrate. I remember him daringly holding his hand above the hot coals to test the heat and singing his arm hairs as my sisters looked on in nervous awe. Some of the best summer nights ended with empty plates, full stomaches, and fresh picked figs from our backyard tree.
My parents' cooking was all about simplicity. A quality piece of meat seasoned with salt and pepper, buttered vegetables, and an iceberg salad with "daddy dressing" consisting exclusively of apple cider vinegar, canola oil, and garlic salt in the perfect ratio, were the standards that I still hold dear. As I've grown, I've become enamored with herbs and spices, exotic combinations of condiments and marinades, gourmet methods and french sauces, but I hold my father's culinary ease and restraint in high regard. When I visit my parents house, they're more than happy to let me make a yellow curry or a complicated eggplant dish, accompanied by a salad with an experimental sweet-savory dressing, and I love to try out new combinations on their experienced palates. But it's only ever a matter of time before I curl up next to my dad on the couch, stretch my arms around him like a kid, and ask him to grill up a steak "like when I was little."
As far as meats go, I've never been able to get a grill to perform like my father could, but when it comes to vegetables, I can certainly hold my own. Much like the improvisational frittata, the amazing ratatouille is perfect for both clearing out the vegetable crisper and showcasing the best fresh, local picks. I found some beautiful orange cherry tomatoes at Limbo this morning and thought I could scrounge up enough vegetables from the fridge to put together something really tasty as a background to the sweet little jewels.
I tweaked the traditional roasted vegetable dish by making a chilled grilled ratatouille salad. There's really no recipe here, it's just a method that will adapt perfectly to anything and everything you'd feel like throwing in. I grilled up two kinds of eggplants that had been sliced and salted, some carrots, bell peppers, and some sweet potatoes. When these were meltingly cooked and carmelized, I diced them up, tossed them in good olive oil and sea salt, and let them cool in the fridge for about an hour. I topped it all with the gorgeous tomatoes, red onions, capers, local goat cheese, and fresh oregano. By far the best lunch I've had in a while, and the smell of the grill brings me back home, wishing I was sharing it with my dad, on a plate next to a perfectly cooked steak.
Thanks for letting me make the salad dressings, Dad. Eat Well.