This guest post is from our favorite ladies, Natalie and Holly, over at The Modern Proper. Their mission is to reinvent proper for the modern homemaker, one delicious meal at a time. Check out more of their delicious recipes here.
Being raised by a culture-loving single mom, I spent my weekends eating out at nice restaurants (even if we could only afford one meal to share) and perusing art museums and public gardens. My mom rarely cooked at home, and now that I’m a mom of three myself I kinda get it. It was just her and I, and as I’m sure you’re all well aware, cooking three meals a day is a lot of work. Add in a full-time job and running a house alone, driving me to and from school and practices, well let’s just say homemade meals were more or an “event” rather than a common occurrence. But, for whatever this lifestyle lacked in predictability, it more than made up for in developing my pallet. By the age of three, my favorite foods were brie, sauteed mushrooms, and artichokes. I’m thankful for all I was exposed to and credit it with making me the lover of food I am today.
My husband’s experience with food as a child could not have been more different. His mom didn’t enjoy cooking, so she tended to do the bare minimum. Having a sensitive pallet herself, she couldn’t stand vegetables but wanted her children to have them, and so canned veggies became the norm. I’ll never forget the long list of hated vegetables my would-be husband listed off when we first began getting to know each other. Tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, all other squash, eggplant, spinach…the list could go on. What did he eat? Corn. He liked corn. And potatoes, of course.
Being the adventurous eater that I was, this was obviously not going to work. Over the years my husband, ever the willing man that he is, tried time and again new foods that had once made his stomach turn, only to realize that when prepared properly he actually quite enjoyed them. His greatest revelation came upon tasting some green beans that I had quickly sauteed with garlic, lemon and red pepper. He thought he detested green beans, but suddenly realized how tasty they were. They’re now one of his favorite foods, and he’d be the first one to tell you all about the canned green beans he had to choke down as a kid and how they nearly ruined this perfectly good food for him forever.
Why am I telling you all this? Because, guys…how you cook things matter! There are very few foods that are intrinsically good or bad tasting. I would argue that most food can be either absolutely delicious or completely terrible depending on how it’s prepared. Which brings me to this ratatouille. You may think a meal comprised of veggies doesn’t sound all that appealing, but I’m betting you’ve never had them this way. Think perfectly seasoned, and slow roasted so that all their natural sweetness is released and they melt in your mouth. Now set that ratatouille over a bed of ultra-creamy goat cheese polenta and then tell me it’s not the best thing you’ve ever tasted. If you find yourself in the veggie-fearing camp like my husband once did, I promise you there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A fresh-food filled utopia that pleases the senses and gets you out of your starch-laden comfort zone is just one great dish away.
Ratatouille with Goat Cheese Polenta
1 small eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
1 bell pepper, yellow, red or orange
10-12 fresh basil leaves
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 large onion
2 tbsp olive oil divided
4 roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
goat cheese polenta
1 cup polenta
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4-6 oz goat cheese
Preheat oven to 350°. Slice all vegetables ¼ inch thick, making them as uniform as possible. Working in a circular pattern like the photo above, alternate vegetables until the dish is full or all are used up adding a basil leaf every so often. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with slivered garlic and fresh thyme pulled off its stems. Bake for 45 minutes.
When the ratatouille has 5 minutes left, begin the polenta. In a medium saucepan bring the polenta, salt, pepper and water to a simmer, slowly stir in milk and goat cheese and continue to cook until all liquid is absorbed and the polenta is soft. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. If you like your polenta more runny, continue to add more milk.
To serve, divide polenta into four bowls and top with a generous serving of the ratatouille. Serve immediately as the polenta will set if left out too long.