We’ve been away celebrating the 4th of July with the whole family. For unknown reasons, this is the first time in many many years I’ve enjoyed this holiday and felt a bit patriotic. Usually the 4th comes and goes without much fan-fair or break from the usual schedule for me. The last time I sat outside to watch fireworks in the sky was 4 years ago, and I was alone in a park on the mountain side contemplating the meaning of life when the fireworks just started going off. “Oh ya, it must be the 4th of July then…” Those were my exact thoughts.
But this year was different. First of all we’re spending the summer with family, and with the outrageous heat this country has been experiencing we decided it was necessary to spend the entire day playing in the water. We set up all sorts of water games for the kids, they got to “Go Fishing” for a prize after each game, the family played old school backyard games together like “Mother May I?”, then we had a monumental feast of classic American cuisine and BBQ, sat around the firepit all night, did the firework thing, had a psychedelic moment with approximately 1 thousand glow sticks, and then finally camped out in the backyard.
Confession… the kids camped out and most of us adults just ended up migrating to our warm comfortable beds inside. We’ve gone soft! Follow all of that with a big breakfast shindig, more nights of games like “Ticket to Ride” and endless leftovers and it was the funnest and busiest 4th I’ve had… ever.
I think part of it was to prove to Phil that I’m not fully nomadic in nature, that I do have some sense of connection to my roots. I had to show this Canadian husband what it means to be “Amrrrrcan!” And in full support, he attempted to embrace the Amrrrrrcan spirit by shaving his beard down to a mustache (he’s spent two years in Texas, at the heart of it all, and assumed a good ‘ol cowboy mustache would legitimize him.) Majority ruling though says he only looked more French/Spanish/Something-else.
Oh yes, we can’t forget it was also Canadian day. We celebrated by mentioning the day after that “Yesterday was Canadian day!” ‘Bout sums it up. There’s a study in differences of culture right there. (HAPPY CANADIAN DAY to you too Andrea!!
A midst all the parties comes loads of good food. Like most human beings, I prefer to keep it light and fresh during the summer. I’m still fully engaged in the journey to healing and getting my body back to full strength, some days it feels like an eternity away, but fresh seasonal veggies are the surest way to get what I need to heal. And they’re the surest way to keeping my family healthy and far away from health problems of their own.
This is what I like best about this dish, when I go shopping for a Summer Veggie Gratin I feel like saying “I’ll take one of everything please.” Just walk down the vegetable isle in your market and start bagging: zucchini, squash, tomatoes, red yellow and green bell peppers, eggplant, white onion and basil. Did we miss anything?
This is also a great dish if you’re trying to get your kids used to new flavors like peppers or eggplant because the flavors soften as they bake together and become easily enjoyable. Once again, I referred to my favorite book and source of fresh inspiration, Alain Ducasse’s book Nature. I highly highly recommend this book to anybody’s collection of kitchen goods. I should pull a “Julie and Julia” and cook a recipe per day from his book… I can see it now… “Tawny and Alain!” (It’s missing the cute charm but it would have all the flavor!)
- 4 tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1 white onion
- 1 garlic clove
- bunch of basil
- 1 eggplant
- 1 yellow squash
- 1 zucchini
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- First slice & then remove seeds and white membranes from the peppers. Cut an onion in similar pattern, then finally crush and chop a garlic clove.
- Heat a saute pan with some olive oil and add the onions & peppers. Cook for ten minutes, occasionally stirring, keeping it covered with a lid when not stirring.
- While that is cooking down, slice the remaining veggies. Cut into long strips the eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash. ⅓ inch thickness is ideal, mandolins are a great friend here.
- Chop the leaves from about 4 sprigs of basil.
- Back to the peppers that are cooking on the stove: Slip the sliced tomatoes under the vegetables (just lift them with a spatula) and let it cook another 5 minutes. When finished pour it all into a bowl and add the chopped basil.
- Now heat a skillet (I like to use the large rectangular pancake kind to get more done at once) with a splash of olive oil and sautee the eggplant strips for a minute on each side. Salt and pepper and set aside on a plate. Do the same with zucchini and squash strips.
- Now build the gratin. Arrange ⅓ of eggplant, squash and zucchini on the bottom of 9×13 pan. Alternate colors and make pretty if you wish! Next spread ½ the tomato mixture on top. Again add another ⅓ of the squashes to the pan, alternating colors. Add the rest of the tomato mixture on top and finish with the last ⅓ of squashes for the final layer.
- Bake for 15 minutes. With only a couple minutes left add a generous sprinkling of grated parmigiana cheese (optional).
- Remove from oven, sprinkle with some of the small leaves of the basil bunch and allow to cool for a few minutes. Finish with a good grind of fresh black pepper.