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the julia child supper club
Like many people, I felt that I had lost a personal friend when Julia Child died. To help with my loss, I got together with friends and cooked a Julia Child dinner. We each took a course from one of her books – I chose appetizers since that’s my favorite course – and met for dinner. We ate the appetizers and watched a couple of episodes of The French Cook and then went into the dining room for a lavish, multi-course dinner. There were ten of us and the menu included Vichyssoise, sautéed scallops, rack of lamb and dessert. We each brought a wine to complement our respective dishes.
This original homage-feast started the Julia Child Supper Club, a group of food-loving friends that is still going strong. We meet approximately every two months, rotating houses, and cook a different cuisine every time. But every November, we return to our roots and cook a Julia French dinner. We even get dressed up for the occasion.
So far, we’ve cooked Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Peruvian, Western BBQ, Swedish and Moroccan. This month, we’re having a French Provençal picnic; the next gathering after that, we’ll be doing a German Oktoberfest dinner.
With the release of the film Julie and Julia, we are again reminded how much Julia Child influenced all of us.
My market basket this week has zucchini and eggplant, both of which inspired me to make one of my all-time favorites – ratatouille. I will try out ratatouille recipes this week and then make the best version for the Julia Child French Provençal picnic later in August. I’m including my favorite ratatouille recipe in this article.
Ratatouille is the quintessential summer dish. As it cooks, it perfumes the house with the smells of Provence. This can be served hot or room temperature, or even cold. You can serve it as a side to grilled meat or fish, or as a topping for pasta. I love ratatouille on crostini or bruschetta, topped with a basil leaf.
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided (this could be a bit more or less)
½ pound Italian eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
½ pound zucchini, cut crosswise into 1-inch sections
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 red or yellow bell pepper, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
Leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 pint cherry tomatoes (I used an assortment of colors)
Place the eggplant in a strainer over a bowl and toss with the salt. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain. Dry with a towel.
Line a large plate with paper towels. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the eggplant, season generously with salt and pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and soft and wilted, but not mushy. Remove the eggplant from the pan and onto the plate to drain. Add a tablespoon or so olive oil to the saucepan; add the zucchini and cook until brown, but not mushy. Remove the zucchini from the pan and add it to the plate with the eggplant.
In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook the onions slowly for about 5 to 7 minutes, until slightly caramelized. Add the pepper and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Stir in the garlic and season to taste. Add the herbs and stir. Add the tomatoes over the onions and peppers. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes until the tomatoes release their juices. Return the eggplant and zucchini to the pan. Season the ratatouille with salt and pepper and let cook slowly for 20 minutes until the mixture is soft, mushy and juicy. Be careful of your heat; do not let the vegetables scorch in the bottom of the pan.
Ratatouille is great hot, at room temperature or even cold. If you refrigerate the ratatouille and want to serve it hot, reheat it slowly at serving time.