I am entranced by the Sunset Season here in Southern California! While most people around me love the long leisurely days of summer, I am quietly and patiently awaiting the cooler days of autumn. The shadows become longer and the sunsets here in La Jolla, California become living artwork. It is this time of year when I truly connect with the rhythm of life around me.
My son is back in school, the throngs of visitors at the beaches here have gone home, and my sunrise walks with Leo, my Australian Shepherd, have been bringing me serenity and calm. Have you ever noticed the quiet peace and strength there is to be found in solitude?
If you are anything like me, finding inspiration is a direct jolt to creativity! I look to many different places for this. Nature and the rhythm of the waves, friends and the way they make me feel after an afternoon of lively conversations and laughter, and of course, sourcing the freshest and most delicious foods!
One of the most delicious dishes to make as the weather cools and the sun dips below the horizon earlier is this Baked Ratatouille. The aroma that emanates from the kitchen while it bakes is comforting and warming. I’ve made this dish many different ways, and for me, this one is the best. Underneath all of the beautifully colored sliced vegetables is a bed of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, red bell peppers, and thinly sliced onions and garlic. This creates an amazing and mouth watering sauce for the vegetables to stew in. I bake this dish mostly uncovered. The flavors of all the vegetables develop slowly, creating a rich and vibrant side dish or meal unto itself.
- 2 zucchini
- 2 yellow squash
- 2 small eggplant
- 5-6 Roma tomatoes
- 1 28oz can San Marzano whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand (or 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes)
- 1 small yellow onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 10-12 fresh basil leaves, julienned
- Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
- 4 Tablespoons olive oil
1. Slice zucchini into thin rounds. Repeat for each vegetable. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. In a medium pan, sauté thinly sliced onions, garlic and diced red bell pepper in a little olive oil, approximately 4-5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for 10 minutes more.
3. Using an oven proof casserole dish, large enough to accommodate all the vegetables, spoon the tomato sauce on the bottom of dish. Reserve 1 cup of tomato sauce to spoon over top later. Layer the vegetables in a spiral pattern on top until all the vegetables are used.
4. Prepare the herb marinade. Combine the chopped thyme, parsley, basil and Herbs de Provence with olive oil and Sea Salt and Black Pepper. Whisk to combine and then pour evenly over all the vegetables. Top with remaining tomato sauce.
5. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 20-25 minutes until all the vegetables become soft.
6. Remove from oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Garnish with a few Italian parsley sprigs. This dish can be served piping hot or at room temperature. Anyway you choose, it is so delicious.
When I think of all the laughter and light hearted conversations that I’ve been fortunate enough to have around my table over the years, I am always reminded that the best times are those that have been made with Love as the main ingredient. In this world of fast movement and even faster conversations, I am certain that the best of times are still around a leisurely dinner with friends and family. So go ahead, prepare a simple and delicious dinner, open up a beautiful bottle of wine, and Savor Life’s greatest gifts.