ratatouille

In summer, metaphors are as plentiful as buzzing bees. Here is one with its nose buried in a hollyhock. Here are half a dozen more darting among the clover.

Summer is a gradual unspooling, and I see the picture of it everywhere: rosebuds unfurling, pea vines and morning glories curling and uncurling. Summer is for slowly, but surely, unclenching our fists, letting our hurried shoulders drop, and leaning in toward something easy.

Summer, even when it’s hot and sticky, invites us to breathe a little more deeply.

The irony is that summer is such a busy season. For me, it is a calendar crowded with scout camp and swim lessons, jam making and road trips. It is book lists and chore charts, yard work and play dates. And yet, all of this busyness is cushioned by an easiness unique to summer. We wake up late, we stay up later. We meander, we wander, until finally we cut into yet another watermelon. I don’t really like summer’s heat, but I love the way my anxious soul unspools like a kite string, a fishing line, or the jump rope I see my children have left floating in the baby pool.

Summer offers rest. Real rest. This isn’t a Sunday-only rest. This isn’t a few hours of sleep grabbed in a mad dash, as if it were possible to sleep in a hurry. This isn’t a twenty-minute power nap before we rush back to rushing on. This is rest running through everything, each moment, every day, like a river.

This is rest in the midst of abundance. We can almost hold it in our hands, like a loose bouquet of wind-tossed cosmos. Living in this rest, I finally understand there is time enough for everything that matters in life. I suppose this is the lesson we learn when our to-do list includes items like pick the green beans and make ratatouille at least once before August.

The question I am asking right now is this: how can I make it last? I don’t want a forever summer. I am always glad when the first cool autumn winds set the yellow leaves on our old cherry trees dancing. What I want is to know where that river goes when my children return to school and the days draw in, smaller and darker.

Is the water of this river still available? Can it still be found?

This summer, I am searching out those moments when I choose rest. Because I think we almost always choose to rest. It is only that summer makes the choice feel inevitable (of course, we will linger by the creek, of course we will go berry picking). But there’s no of course about it.

There never is.

ratatouille

In Rhythms of Rest, Shelly Miller writes: “Choosing to leave work undone for rest isn’t a sign of weakness and failure. On the contrary, choosing rest over work is the ultimate act of brave trust in God’s sovereign hand upon creation. He is in charge of our minutes” (98).

In summer, I know better than to fret over unpicked greens beans. Even the unharvested zucchini – grown to the size of a small child – is cause for laughter, never guilt. The key is to hold onto this attitude when July’s green beans have become November’s grocery list or January’s snow shovel.

I toss my overgrown zucchini to the chickens, but if I can find a few smaller ones, I know it is time to check one item off my summer list: ratatouille. It is the epitome of summer’s easy plenty. It has so many ingredients, but most of us have at least a few of them growing in pots on our back porch. The others are easy to find at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. The chopping takes time, but in summer, no one expects dinner at 5:30 on the dot. Instead, still full from that extra slice of melon, we are lucky if we make it to the picnic table by 7.

And if we don’t? If, instead, we put the kids in pajamas and drive to the ice cream stand? Well, ratatouille tastes even better after a day or two.

Because there is always time enough.

Ratatouille
My ingredients vary based on what's growing in the garden, but I always follow Molly Wizenberg's method of first roasting the eggplant. Her memoir, A Homemade Life, which includes this recipe for ratatouille, is one of my favorites.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 lb eggplant, sliced into 1-inch thick circles
  2. extra-virgin olive oil
  3. 1 pound zucchini or 1 lb yellow summer squash, or a combination of both, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2 inch thick
  4. 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly
  5. 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
  6. 4 large garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  7. 5 paste tomatoes, such as Roma, seeded and chopped
  8. 1 tsp coarse salt
  9. 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  10. 1 dried bay leaf
  11. 1/4 cup basil, sliced into thin ribbons
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place eggplant rounds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Use a brush (or your hand) to coat both sides of each piece with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping slices after 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Cut into rough 1-inch pieces.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or large, deep skillet. Add zucchini and squash and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  4. Add a small amount of oil to pan if necessary, reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook until slightly soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and bell pepper and cook until tender, about 6 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, salt, thyme, and bay leaf, and stir well.
  6. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Add eggplant, zucchini, and squash, stir well, and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper if needed, remove the bay leaf, and stir in the basil.
Notes
  1. This is wonderful as a side dish with grilled meat or as a main dish with crusty bread and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Ratatouille tastes great hot or at room temperature.
Adapted from A Homemade Life
Adapted from A Homemade Life
Grace Table http://gracetable.org/
Christie Purifoy / Posts / Blog
Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for an old farmhouse and a garden. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and four children, where she is witness to the seasonal beauty of God's good creation. Her book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons is out now from Revell. She blogs at www.christiepurifoy.com
  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Such a lovely post, as always, Christie!! And I thought . . . oh my friend Shelly would love this. And here, you quote her! 🙂 I love the long, languid, luxurious days of summer. I loved when I no longer had to drive Sheridan to school by the dawn’s early light and collect her at day’s end, but when we could simply linger in our jammies, drink tea, and read books in the mornings. I never enrolled her in summer camp, though she enjoyed VBS. We did let summer unspool and followed the thread wherever it flowed. We were not deliberate in our wandering and never had plans or agendas. I’m sad for children whose schools have air-conditioning and who keep kids cool, but scholastically “heated” all summer long, whose programs are year-round with only short breaks here and there, scattered throughout year-long curricula. Turning a corner, you do show some ambition if you are making summer ratatouille. 🙂 All that chopping and prep work does take time. I usually make this at Thanksgiving. And you are right: It does taste better over the ensuing days. So I make a ton and then just relax over the following days and enjoy the fruits of my labor. Summer’s like that . . . maybe we can see it as something stored up to savor, after we’ve worked hard for the other nine months (and following Shelly’s advice, though, with regular times of Sabbath rest, throughout all of our days). Thanks so much for sharing, Christie, and for a real ratatouille recipe. That will be a pleasure to try. Mine is simply from taste and experimentation.
    Love
    Lynn

    July 17th, 2017 12:59
    Reply
    01
    • Christie Purifoy

      Lynn, I’ve read your whole beautiful comment several times, but I keep coming back to the idea of ratatouille for Thanksgiving. It’s brilliant! Somehow I’ve never thought of including it in my holiday menu, but what could be more appropriate for a harvest celebration? This might be the year. Thank you.

      July 18th, 2017 9:49
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      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Oh admittedly, you’ve made me smile, Christie, because I have never thought of ratatouille in the summer! 🙂 It’s always a Thanksgiving treat for us. Isn’t it interesting how God will inspire our culinary preferences differently? BTW, sometimes, after that TG feast, I will add lean ground sirloin to the ratatouille, and it makes for a more substantial one-dish dinner. But gotta tell you: No matter what I do to it, my husband will. not. eat. it. He sounds more like a finicky kid-eater, doesn’t he? Let me know if you try this for the troops at TG! And don’t forget the sage stuffing and apple pie! 🙂
        Love
        Lynn

        July 18th, 2017 19:06
        Reply
        03
  • Shelly Miller

    This is lovely Christie. Your writing often leaves me hungry or inspired to add some new flowering plant or tasty herb to my tiny garden. Your words are a feast for the senses and the soul. Thank you!

    July 18th, 2017 7:08
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    • Christie Purifoy

      Thank you, Shelly! It is so good to hunger (because He satisfies). Much love to you.

      July 18th, 2017 9:46
      Reply
      05
  • Kris
    http://kriscamealy.com

    I have read this post several time, Christie. It’s just beautiful. Thank you for sharing your musings, and this recipe! I have never made Ratatouille, and have always wanted to. And here I will have your recipe to follow! Thank you for everything….

    July 18th, 2017 18:15
    Reply
    06
  • Kamille Scellick
    http://www.redeemingthetable.com

    Christie–your soul echoes mine these thousand miles apart, and I laughed out loud the zucchini the size of a small child, because, well it’s the truth. Thank you for letting your words making me always hungry for a little more and tug at my own inner desires.

    Kamille

    July 19th, 2017 14:38
    Reply
    07
  • Kamille Scellick
    http://www.redeemingthetable.com

    Christie–your soul echoes mine these thousand miles apart, and I laughed out loud the zucchini the size of a small child, because, well it’s the truth. Thank you for letting your words making me always hungry for a little more and tug at my own inner desires.

    Kamille

    July 19th, 2017 14:39
    Reply
    08

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