Stop everything you’re doing, people in the northern hemisphere! It’s ratatouille time. Absolutely everything is in season and the farmer’s markets are teeming with the ingredients you need to make this quintessential French vegetable dish. There’s a lot going on in my personal life, right now, so I apologize if I seem like I’m waxing unnecessary poetical about vegetables right now. It’s just, you know, we’re leaving Montreal behind for greener, more financially-viable, friendlier pastures and I’m feeling stressed, tired and confused. I am seeking the tremendous comfort that only fresh produce can bring me.
Someone who once meant a great deal to me introduced me to both the Jean Talon farmer’s market and ratatouille, immediately after my best friend passed away. This ratatouille is inspired and dedicated to my favourite stand at the market, who grows garlic chives (and some very, very interesting herbs) and threw in some gorgeous tiny eggplant for free. I suppose it’s appropriate this will be the last thing I blog from Montreal, using Quebec produce. On to new vegetable adventures! See you next week, people!
After the recipe, I’m going to share some of my favourite photos I took from our regular trips to the market this year and try to put into words what it has meant to me. For the uninitiated, garlic chives are also called Chinese chives and they are exactly what they sound like. Here’s an interesting article on growing the lesser-known herb. Ratatouille gets better every day after you’ve made it, but I’m not positive this will last long enough for you to discover that. Or maybe I just really, really love this dish. Plus, it’s naturally vegan and gluten-free, which means we get to enjoy it exactly the way the French intended – which is a true pleasure.
Garlic Chive Mashed Sweet Potatoes
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup garlic chives, finely chopped
2 tablespoons non-dairy margarine
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a medium sized pot, bring the sweet potatoes to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are soft. Drain and mash with the garlic chives, non-dairy margarine and salt. Keep warm and set aside until the ratatouille is ready.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 small eggplant, ends trimmed, cubed and salted
1 small green pepper, seeds removed and cubed
1 small red pepper, seeds removed and cubed
1 zucchini, ends trimmed and cubed
1 white onion, peeled and cubed
2 tomatoes, cubed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Basil leaves, for serving
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the vegetables and salt. Keep them moving for the first while, until they start to lose their juices. Sprinkle with salt and thyme and sautee for about 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft, but paying the most attention to the eggplant. Serve over the mashed sweet potatoes.
It’s been hard to live in Montreal. It seems like it would be an easy place to adjust to, but it’s wasn’t. It was like leaving your home country for one you don’t need a passport to travel to. There are no jobs and the only friends one makes are people who are also ex-pats, which doesn’t do anything to help with learning French to speed along your never-coming integration into this society. Things are broken, bridges fall down, the mob has its hands on everything and it’s just not as romantic as it seems when you visit. I know I had a harder adjustment than most people, (what with the death and violence and endless unemployment) but I loved this city more than anything and it’s very hard to leave. My claw marks are all over these streets, mingled with my memories. I came here with every hope in the world and I leave with nearly none, now.
The farmer’s market was never anything but a joy, though. When we went to purchase the food for my wedding, the herb stand (Jacques et Diane, as mentioned above) the gentleman promised to replace anything that didn’t make it to the date and every single time we’ve visited since, he has showered us with complimentary produce, with no words exchanged in the same language. To be treated with kindness and respect in an atmostphere that doesn’t really have the time for such antiquated notions, it is enough to bring tears to your eyes (and rest assured, it has). The market is a place where you can converse with the people who grow your food and flowers with their own hands – well, if one or two mumbled French words count. You can witness the seasons changing and what that means for the food on your table. I can’t think of a better place to be and it was the only place I ever felt like I’d made a home while in Montreal.