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!

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Ratatouille sofrito w/ crispy eggplant

Ratatouille sofrito

I love the movie Ratatouille. I think it’s well-made, of course, but beyond that, it makes me happy to watch it. I’ve talked before about my fascination with the connection between food and memory, so the scene in which Anton Ego takes a bite of ratatouille and rockets back to his childhood appeals to me in every way! And there is something about ratatouille – its simplicity, its distinctive flavors. Ratatouille seems like the embodiment of summer at its height, when everything is plump and ripe at the same time, and glowing with possibilities. The fact that everything that grows together and ripens together and tastes so wonderful proves that there is a pattern, there is meaning and sense!

I decided to make a sort of distillation of ratatouille. An intense concentration of the flavors and textures, which uses wintery ingredients to produce a memory of summer. Obviously, I don’t have fresh tomatoes and peppers from the garden. I have a can of tomatoes and a jar of roasted reds- So I sofritoed it. In this way, you can still get a fix of warmth and sunshine to get you through the chilly months. I combined all the signature ratatouille ingredients – zucchini, tomato, red pepper and herbs – and I cooked them and cooked them until they were meltingly delicious and very very flavorful – almost like a chutney. I have to admit that I don’t really like mushy eggplant. I only like eggplant if it’s sliced thin and crisped up. Even in the summertime, when I make ratatouille – even if I get the eggplant right out of my garden – I don’t cook it with everything else. I slice it thin, bread it, and bake it in olive oil till it’s nice and crispy. And then it goes perfectly with the ratatouille!

So that’s the story about that. We ate it with slices of bread I’d baked with my OOTO spice mix (more about that later!) and some grated mozzarella. Malcolm made little sandwiches with eggplant on the outside and ratatouille and cheese on the inside. And we had a salad, of course! Baby spinach, baby arugula and some grape tomatoes.

Here’s a song from the ratatouille soundtrack. It’s a good soundtrack. No cheesy teen idols singing inane songs. Like on some other animated hits.
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