For the first ten years of my life, my family lived in a quaint house on a quiet street – Rosedale Avenue. The downstairs did not have doors; instead, the complete circle of living room, den, kitchen, and dining room was divided by open doorways. Every Saturday night, my father would make some elaborate dish – often chicken parmesan. As Andrea Bocelli or another Italian divo crooned, smells of garlic, bay leaf, and a happily simmering tomato sauce would drift throughout the downstairs rooms. My mother made a similarly divine eggplant parmesan every once in a while, incorporating the same ingredients in a vegetarian option.
I absolutely adored my parents’ respective “Parmesan” recipes, but often bemoaned the hour at which they were finally served. After cooking out the sauce to perfection, breading the chicken and shallow frying it, melting the cheese under the broiler, and assembling the various elements, Saturday night dinner often did not begin before a spouse grew hungry, daughters cranky, and chef positively exhausted.
Like Ernest Hemingway’s writing style, this recipe takes the essential flavors and leaves out all things superfluous. It is minimalistic but still complete and complex. With only five basic ingredients, this ratatouille (and it’s very own cheesy carrying case) is still vibrant, colorful, and satisfying. As Hemingway used the omission technique to describe the relationship between Frederic and Catherine in A Farewell to Arms, this vegetable parmesan marries very few flavors (but encompasses all that is necessary to achieving the warm Italian dish).
Ratatouille-Filled Parmesan Baskets
1/2 aubergine (eggplant)
1 courgette (zucchini)
1 red pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Chives to garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grate a thin layer of parmesan cheese onto parchment paper (into a disk shape). Melt in oven, remove after about 4 minutes, immediately mold into small basket shape using espresso cup or shot glass. Let molded parmesan rest in dry, cool place until set.
2. Chop aubergine, pepper, and courgette into tiny cubes. Cook in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Finish by binding all vegetables in tomato paste. Season with salt.
3. Let ratatouille cool. Serve in cooled Parmesan basket. Garnish with chives.
Enjoy vegetable parmesan with Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!