Life is full of ups and downs. There are moments when I am on top of the world, invincible, like I can do anything. I feel that way after drinking my morning cup of coffee. I love how optimistic I am when I’ve had caffeine. Other times I’m full of doubts, and I question my ability to get anything right. I’m more prone to those feelings in the afternoon, when the caffeine has worn off, and the kids are getting antsy.
Last week was full of more downs than ups for me. I had a really bad cold, which affected everything. I didn’t have the energy to do special activities with the kids or get chores done. By Friday the kids were climbing the walls and there wasn’t a clean dish/shirt/floor in sight. The worst part of it was that I couldn’t smell or taste anything. Which meant I didn’t really feel like cooking, because who wants to create something fantastic if you can’t enjoy it?
This week I’ve been playing catch-up. The mountain of laundry is more like a mole-hill, and the dishes are under control. My mind feels clearer; I think my ability to focus has finally come back. And the kids–rambunctious as ever–are much happier now that I have the energy to keep up with their antics. Best of all, my senses of smell and taste have returned, so I’m back in the kitchen again.
Which brings us to this recipe that I created last night. For some reason I have had ratatouille on the brain–probably because it is one of the perfect things to cook when summer has ended and fall is just getting under way. It uses all those wonderful summer vegetables (tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant) that won’t be around in a couple of weeks, but since it’s served warm it feels cozy on those cool autumn nights. But here’s the thing–I’m the only one in my family that enjoys ratatouille straight up. It really is just some cooked vegetables, so it is hard to convince my husband and kids that it is a meal (even with a slice of crusty bread to mop up all the yummy juices). So I decided to combine it with a family favorite–baked ziti. It was a hit at my family table, I hope it is at yours.
Ratatouille Ziti (my creation)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper
- 3/4 pound eggplant, trimmed & cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 3/4 pound zucchini, trimmed & cut into 1/2-inch chunks
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
- 4 large tomatoes, cored & chopped
- 3/4 pound ziti
- 3/4 pound whole milk mozzarella
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 Tablespoon chopped parsley (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 1/2 pound of mozzarella into 1/4-inch chunks; shred the remaining 1/4 pound.
- Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; season with salt & pepper. Saute for 5 minutes.
- Season eggplant with salt & pepper. Add to onion and saute for 5 minutes.
- Season zucchini with salt & pepper. Add to onion/eggplant mixture and saute for 10 minutes.
- Add garlic and thyme (leaves only) and saute for 45 seconds. Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook the ziti in the boiling water until al dente (use the lowest recommended cooking time on the package) and drain.
- Add the ziti and cubed mozzarella to the Dutch oven and gently stir to combine. Sprinkle top with grated mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid. Broil on high for 5 minutes (or until nicely browned, see Notes).
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley (if you want to) and let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.