We moved to a small town in Northern Arizona
about 18 months ago.
I needed a change of pace and a better housing situation. I'm still close enough to the city that I can take a short day-trip if I need to be in Phoenix for work meetings or TV shoots, but far enough away from the crazy heat and hustle of the city to enjoy a more country life. I've always been a very simple gal, and I don't really need anything fancy. It's been a perfect fit and we're thriving here. It's a whole new world. We bought an acre and are really enjoying the cooler weather and totally different growing zone for our garden as well.
Many of you are aware of my avid love of gardening and this new part of the state has been just what this gal needs. We've had a couple of very successful gardening seasons compared to Phoenix where the heat is just relentless and well...evil. This year, around March, my youngest son (now 17 years old and in college) helped build a greenhouse to extend our growing season a lot and also to get experience with a greenhouse ecosystem. He's seriously considering a career in Botany and Horticultural Science...and I couldn't be more thrilled about that! So really the greenhouse is for school right? I mean I learn something everyday and this has been a learning experience for sure.
So here's the journey. We started with a 16 foot by 20 foot greenhouse kit. Some good soil, 100 cinder blocks and lots of anchors (about 6K pounds worth of cord and screw-in-the-ground things) to keep it from flying away in our very, very windy mountain town.
Face worked really hard to make this happen.
Then we installed soak hoses and planted all the seedlings that we had been nurturing inside under the grow-lamps. We planted 3 carrot varieties, beets. Peas that will climb. There are 25 varieties of heirloom tomatoes. There are herbs like mad for my shenanigans in the kitchen including basil, cilantro, tarragon, dill, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, chives and 3 varieties of sage. I also wanted to try my hand this year with leeks.
Things started to grow really well!
We even put in solar powered lamps so I could just weed in the middle of the night if I wanted to do so. Don't judge me. I really love being in this place. Sometimes I say I'm weeding, but I'm just sitting out here reading a good book or listening to some good Gospel tunes. It's really good for my soul.
Now everything is pretty huge! We had to take out the zucchini and we're putting in our second crops for Fall. Other things like the broccoli have bolted like mad, but I'm saving the seeds so I'm just using the extra leaves for coleslaw and low-carb enchilada or lasagna bakes. Our cilantro went to seed so I harvested the large branches with seed pods to dry for spices and also to replant seeds in the spring (or indoors during the winter).
As our adventures in gardening continue I decided that I really needed to be a chef and actually make a version of Ratatouille that didn't require using and oven. I wanted one that also used a lot less oil than most traditional recipes, since they tended to be heavy. So with our Japanese eggplant, zucchini and honkin' huge load of heirloom tomatoes coming into full ripeness...this was a must!
Pick the eggplants young and tender to avoid lots of thick seeds and to minimize the sponge effect it has on oil in cooking. If you aren't growing your own tomatoes, be sure to pick firm and ripe varieties. I used both large chopped tomatoes as well as the smaller cherry varieties.
We have a few things outside the greenhouse too...
Face built a few grow-boxes in the yard. There is space for all his side projects. Yes. He built all of these from scratch. I'm so proud.
Now. For the recipe...
My Stove-top Ratatouille
1 medium globe eggplant, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 large zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch-thick rounds
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 large onion, halved, sliced ½ inch thick
1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, coarsely
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pints cherry tomatoes
2 large tomatoes, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup fresh torn basil leaves
Toss eggplant, zucchini, and 2 tsp. salt in a colander.
Let sit 30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.
Heat oil in a large heavy Dutch oven or other heavy
ovenproof pot over medium-high. Add eggplant and zucchini and cook, stirring
constantly, until vegetables begin to take on color, about 10 minutes. Add the onion,
bell pepper and garlic. Cook another 5 minutes until clear. Add thyme and tomatoes
and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5
minutes; season with salt and pepper. Cover and slow cook on very low heat for
10-15 minutes more.
Transfer to a serving platter and top with basil.
Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess
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