Locavore [LOH-kah-vore] noun 1. a person who makes an effort to eat food that is grown, raised, or produced locally
This week we marry a classic Mediterranean recipe with the local, organically and sustainably grown, farm-fresh produce from the Backbone Food Farm. Ratatouille is a lovely vegetable stew with roots in Spain and France and it showcases the best of the mid to late summer harvest. A fresh tomato sauce accented with sauteed onions, garlic, peppers, thyme, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil meets lightly browned zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant in this classic Provencal dish. This recipe is especially good with the larger (and often tougher) late-season squash and zucchini that benefit from gentle simmering in the fragrant fresh tomato sauce.
What makes this recipe so special is that we prepared the dish on the Backbone Food Farm with vegetables picked that very morning! Talk about fresh, flavorful, and nutritious! One of my food guidelines is “buy and use locally grown products whenever possible.” There are SO MANY BENEFITS to becoming a “locavore” and cooking with the best, locally procured ingredients. According to researcher Kathleen Frith with the Harvard School of Public Health, some of the benefits of becoming a “locavore” include:
- Higher nutritional quality: fruit and vegetables lose much of their nutritional value over a short period of time. Buying locally grown produce = maximum nutritional value!
- Naturally ripened and in-season produce: our farmers bring high quality items to market during the natural cycle of maturation and ripening. Many of the fruits and vegetables in larger stores are mass produced, shipped before ripened, and coaxed to mature in transit. One study showed that mass produced broccoli lost over HALF of its vitamin C during transportation to retail outlets. Sweet corn can lose up to 60% of its natural “sweetness” and nutritional value within just 24 hours of harvesting!
- Local = less transportation: Less fuel, less handling, and less distance all add up to MORE nutrition and less natural resources needed to bring products to market.
- Fresher produce = best tasting: Nothing beats fresh produce, picked at its peak, for fantastic flavor and nutrition!
- Supports the local economy: Let your hard earned dollars work in your own backyard! Supporting local agriculture is good for healthy economies and eating plans!
- Sustains healthy lands: Sustainable, biodynamic farming practices ensure the land remains productive, vibrant, and environmentally friendly for generations to come.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to prepare a truly “farm to table” meal with our friends at the Backbone Food Farm! We encourage you to get out, meet your farmers, and become a Garrett County locavore…good for you and our community!
Farm to Table Ratatouille by Thomas George
Saute onions in about 2 T of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) in a dutch oven or large sauce pot over medium to medium-high heat until translucent, soft, and just starting to brown on edges (6-8 minutes)
Add HALF of the finely chopped bell peppers and saute 3-4 minutes until starting to soften.
Add chopped garlic and HALF of fresh thyme and oregano, stirring 1-2 minutes. If you choose to use wine, add about 1/2 to 1 C wine and cook until reduced by half its volume.
Add chopped tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat until simmering. Add 1/2 tsp black pepper and optional red pepper flakes. Stir and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until sauce thickens to desired consistency (similar to a marinara or fresh tomato sauce for pasta).
While tomato sauce simmers, heat a cast iron or similar skillet over medium-high heat with 1 1/2 T EVOO and a pinch of salt. Saute the yellow squash until lightly browned, remove from pan and set aside. Repeat with remaining zucchini, then eggplant, and finally, the other HALF of finely chopped bell peppers. Add additional EVOO as needed between each set of vegetables to prevent sticking and to allow for light browning. (Alternatively, vegetables could be tossed in EVOO and a pinch of salt, then roasted in a hot 475 F oven until lightly browned).
Taste tomato sauce and adjust seasonings (salt and pepper). Add fresh chopped basil and the remainder of fresh oregano and thyme. Add the browned vegetables, stir, and adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Sprinkle a little finely minced fresh oregano, thyme, and basil over the dish when right before serving.
Serve this versatile dish by itself, with a side protein (grilled fish or poultry works well!), and/or a crusty French baguette. Or, consider making some soca (farinata), a garbanzo bean bread common in the South of France and Northwestern Italy.
The Basque region (Spain) has a similar dish that is served with a fried egg and crusty bread…delicious!