Saffron-Spiked Ratatouille with Eggs

The other day, the husband and I were walking through a cute little homegoods store in our neighborhood. We were shopping for a present for one of his parents, and of course we were perusing the cookware section. He stopped dead in his tracks and said, "That's a beautiful cookbook."

Of course, he was referring to Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Eat.  It wasn't the photograph  of whom I presume to be Jones digging into the Walnut and Marjoram Pesto with Radicchio on the cover. He said it was the particular font on the clean white background.

It's funny what catches your eye.

For me, it's the gorgeous photographs within the cookbook paired with the healthy recipes that made me want the book. And what a cookbook this one is! Chockful of more than 200 recipes, this cookbook wants to end your cookbook addiction, for you'll never need another vegetarian cookbook after this one (don't worry, I am still addicted. I said it wants to end my addiction; I am not saying that it did).

Jones was once Jamie Oliver's food stylist, and boy, her food sure is pretty. I am almost ashamed to post my own photographs, considering hers are so inviting, warm, and clean. She makes you want to eat, and she makes you want to eat healthy.

I'll admit, this book make me want to eat Farro with Roasted Leeks and Smoked Sweet Romesco (and while I like farro, I don't often reach for it) or Mushroom and Parsnip Rosti Pie (I don't even like parsnips, and I am making that this fall!). She even has a whole section entitled "Satisfying Salads"--an adjective that does not always get associated with salads, and given the photographs in this section, people, I cannot wait to dig in.

Beyond the pretty pictures, this book has I would say precisely a bazillion other recipes I want to try (already flagged and waiting for me), including Blueberry Pie Oatmeal; Caper, Herb, and Soft-Boiled Egg Sandwich; Sweet Tomato and Black Bean Tortilla Bowls; Cardamom and Star Anise Winter Squash Soup; Dal with Crispy Sweet Potato and Quick Coconut Chutney; Seeded Yorkshire Pudding. Oh my. There's a distinctive British flair to her food, but Jones branches into the international with clear aplomb.

With her healthy recipes that are not in the slightest bit about denial (one of her first promises in this book is that it will be "indulgent and delicious" and her last promise is that the food will "impress your family and friends"), Jones cares tremendously about sustainability and stewardship. She gives vegan and gluten-free options when available, but she never sacrifices satisfaction. What's even better, at least to me anyway, is that we share a similar philosophy about why those of us who are not gluten intolerant might, from time to time, want to have a gluten-free option: as she says, "just as with fruits and vegetables, it's important to vary the grains you eat too." (Amen!)

My first foray into this book is Saffron-Spiked Ratatouille with Eggs. Could there be a more summery dish than ratatouille? Zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, red peppers--these are all the vegetables of the dog days, the vegetables that remind us that we need to settle into the heat and laziness of July and August. Sure, you can make ratatouille other times of the year, but the zucchinis will not be as crunchy, the tomatoes as sweet, or the eggplant as firm. 

The only problem with making ratatouille in the summer, however, is that you have to turn the oven on.  Talk about sacrifices for one's meal.

Some argue that ratatouille can be made by sautéing all of the veggies together, which in a pinch for time, you might do here. However, Jones, like Julia Child before her, prefers the layering method, where the veggies are cooked separate from the tomato sauce. Jones then mixes the cooked vegetables together before putting them atop the tomato mixture.

I chose to layer them atop the tomato mixture separately: I think it's prettier that way. However, the flavors stay more distinct (which may or may not be your preference, especially considering that Jones delightfully spikes this otherwise traditional ratatouille with that sweet, dusty flavor of saffron).

Finally a note on timing: this recipe takes a long time. In fact, it took me about three hours from start to finish. Sweet business, that's a commitment! I can think of a few ways to cut back the time: have simultaneous pans going if you do wish to sauté the veggies separately, or you could break down and sauté all the veggies at the same time. Otherwise, just plan to spend the afternoon in the kitchen working with eggplant and zucchini. I spent it reading at the kitchen table. That's certainly not a bad way to spend the summer. 

Even if, in the end, it took about 5 minutes to eat because, my friends, this ratatouille is just that good.


Saffron-Spiked Ratatouille with Eggs

Adapted from Anna Jones' A Modern Way to Eat

While Anna Jones' original recipe does not include the eggs, she does say she likes to serve her ratatouille with them; I added them here. With the eggs, this recipe easily serves four as a hearty meal. Without the eggs, this recipe would serve 8 as a substantial side dish. You make your own call.

Serves 4

2 red peppers, seeded and cut into eighths
olive oil, for frying
salt and pepper
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
6 tomatoes, roughly chopped (or 1 15-ounce can of tomatoes)
pinch of saffron
1 Tbsp vinegar, red wine or sherry
2 eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch-slices
3 zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch-slices
a small bunch of basil
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a baking tray, drizzle a little olive oil over the red peppers. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and then roast the red peppers in the oven for 25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, put enough olive oil in a large frying pan to thinly coat the bottom. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook for 10 minutes, until golden, then add the garlic and thyme and cook for another couple of minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes, saffron, and vinegar to the onions and cook for a few minutes more, until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Put this sauce into a deep baking dish or tray.

5. Put the frying pan back on the heat, add a little more olive oil, and fry the eggplants in batches until golden on both sides, adding more oil as needed. Eggplants will soak up the oil. Once cooked, layer the eggplant slices atop of the tomato and onion sauce.

6. Fry the zucchini the same way and layer these atop the eggplant, as well.

7. Once the red peppers are ready, layer them atop the zucchini. Season with a little more salt and pepper, and return to the oven for 40 minutes to cook through.

8. Just before the ratatouille is done, in a medium frying pan, fry the eggs to desired hardness. (I prefer a over easy egg so that the yolk can seep through the ratatouille.)

9. Once the ratatouille is ready, stir again to mix it all together, including the sauce. Top with a fried egg. Then add the basil leaves (torn) to the top, add more salt and pepper if needed, and drizzle with olive oil.


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