Crispy cornmeal crusted eggplant and chickpea ratatouille

I love gestures. I love that we can convey meaning without words. I like carefully planned and highly stylized gestures – the kind you see in old movies or certain ceremonies. I like gestures unwittingly made – graceful movements of the hand or head that say things we don’t even know we’re saying. I try to pay attention to gestures, but it’s difficult because there’s so much noise. It’s the words that you notice. And sometimes, of course, we misread people’s movements. The other day I took Malcolm down to the river to swim. A couple floated by, each in their own giant tube. They were floating next to each other, and I watched curiously as they touched each others hands, and then their own lips. Touched hands and then lips, touched hands and then lips. They seemed very happy, and it struck me as odd and beautiful. And then it dawned on me that they were sharing a smoke of some sort of other. Heh heh. We were at the shore the other day, and I spied a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are beautiful, clever-looking, sweet, flashy birds, with white-patched-wings and long tails. This particular mockingbird landed not far from us. He raised his wings, half open, in a precise and snappy fashion, and then he opened them further and held them in a sort of arc away from his body, then opened them fully and held them stretched, then closed them. Four jerky, careful steps. Then he turned and faced a new direction and did the same thing. He flew from place to place – fence post to ground to rooftop – performing the same series of gestures, turning in a different direction each time. It was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen. I followed him for a while, watching him show off his lovely white wing patches. When I tried to film him, he flew to a wire, pumped his tail a few times and left. I’m so enamored of this mockingbird and his beautiful gestures! I read a bit about mockingbirds. Did you know that they’re very social, and they’ll play with birds of a different species? They play with their young. And, apparently, this series of gestures is a display to attract a mate. I didn’t see any other mockingbirds around, though. Maybe he was practicing. Maybe, like me, he just likes the feeling of stretching out his wings. Maybe he’s sharing his beauty with the world. I’ve been feeling a little discouraged lately. I feel overwhelmed, sometimes, when I think about everyone trying so hard, working so hard to say something to people, or show people something they think is worth seeing. But everybody’s talking so loudly we can’t hear what anyone is saying. Or maybe we hear but we miss the gestures. When I think about all of the words in all of the books in all of the world, and all of the work and passion that went into recording them, I become completely exhausted. One could almost ask oneself, “why bother?” But now I think, when I feel that way, I’ll think about the mockingbird, and his perfect dance for no bird audience.

And, thus, I’ll keep on telling you about these crazy recipes. This one was gooooood. Everybody liked it, even little Isaac, our toughest food critic here at The Ordinary. It’s very simple and summery. It’s not ratatouille exactly, I know that. But it’s a sort of take-off on ratatouille, in that it involves eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and herbs like thyme and rosemary. I’ve kept the eggplant separate, and coated it with a crispy cornmeal coating, and roasted it till it’s like a crispy chip. And I’ve added chickpeas and olives, which are really lovely together, really lovely with eggplant and olives. Isaac used the eggplant slices like little taco shells, picking out a few chickpeas and olives to stuff inside. David made little stacks of eggplant and ratatouille. I put the eggplant chips on top, like a sort of crispy topping. However you do it, you can’t go wrong!

Chickpea ratatouille

Here’s a blurry sort of video of a mockingbird doing his displaying dance.

And here’s Aretha Franklin singing Mockingbird. Happy song!

Eggplant made this way. Instead of breadcrumbs, combine one cup flour and one cup corn meal. Mix well, and grate a lot of fresh pepper in. Slice the eggplant very thin, and bake till very crisp.

2 T olive oil
1 zucchini, cut lengthwise in half, then each half in thirds, and then cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic – minced
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
1 t thyme
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
dollop of butter (optional – omit if you’re making this vegan)
dash of balsamic
handful pinenuts
some shavings of parmesan (Omit if you’re making this vegan)
salt and pepper

Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and fry and stir till the garlic starts to brown. Add the zucchini, thyme, and rosemary. Stir and fry till the zucchini becomes bright and slightly soft, you don’t want it to be mushy, though. Add the olives and chickpeas and stir and fry till they’re coated with flavor and warmed through. Add the tomatoes. Stir them in well, and cook until they’re soft and falling apart and clinging to everything around them. Stir in the butter and balsamic, and season with salt and pepper. Put everything in a large, shallow bowl. Stir in the basil leaves, and top with a handful of pine nuts and some shavings of parmesan.

Serve with the crispy eggplant. You can use the eggplant like crackers to pick the ratatouille up, or make tiny tacos with chickpeas and olives, like Isaac did, or eat them together any way you like.

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