For our latest Heinen’s Sunday Supper, we’re excited to share a guest essay produced by John Kelly. Owner of jpk.media, John is a talented local photographer who has a beautiful way with words. He and his wife Katrina recently welcomed their first child, Charlotte, who makes life a joy but cooking a challenge. Getting their groove back in the kitchen is going to take time. Might as well start with Sunday Suppers…
Heinen’s Sunday Supper | The New Date Night
by John Kelly, owner, jpk.media
When I think back on my ten years with Katrina, I can remember so many wonderful meals. Cooking has always been central to our relationship. I wouldn’t call us gourmets — foodies, maybe — but for a long time even weekday meals had this way of becoming culinary events. It would be sea bass with Moroccan salsa one night, then pan-seared rib-eye steaks with a porcini and rosemary rub the next. We discovered good cheese, good wine, the art of crème brulee. We were the couple who brought marinated lamb lollipops to the weekend camping trip instead of hotdogs.
These days … well, we’re parents.
That’s not to say we’ve been reduced to eating cereal three times a day, but in the seven months since our daughter was born, cooking has certainly lost some of its charm. Time is in short supply; stir-fry has become a dietary staple.
The other day we were talking about the sad state of our “relationship in the kitchen,” and we made a decision. No matter how hectic the week, we will carve out one night for a special meal — prepared with care and savored, together.
This week it was ratatouille, the classic French vegetable stew. Somehow we had never made it, and only now do I recognize what a shame that is. Better late than never.
“Ratatouille, a jewel of Provençal cooking, is beloved for its silky, olive oil-imbued vegetables, which are saturated with the summery scents of garlic and herbs,” Melissa Clark writes in The New York Times, which recently published a collection of French recipes, including this one.
Pssst… parents: It’s also fairly simple and can be prepared — in fact, should be prepared — ahead of time. The work, if you can call it that, is in chopping all those beautiful vegetables. The oven does the rest. And if you make it a day or two in advance, to let those flavors mingle, you’ll have time to churn up an elaborate dessert as the stew rewarms, say, homemade sweet potato ice cream with maple-glazed pecans — hardly indulgent after a plateful of vegetables.
Bread is a must with ratatouille. You can save yourself a trip out for a fresh loaf by asking the bakers at Heinen’s for a frozen, par-baked baguette. A few minutes in the oven and you’ll have a crusty companion to mop up those savory last bites.
As for wine, I turned to Ken O’Connor, a wine consultant and devoted Francophile, who I met when he worked in the wine department at Heinen’s in Barrington. “My first thought is a lighter bodied red with bright fruit,” he said. “French Gamay makes the most sense.”
Tasting the wine, alongside the ratatouille, it made perfect sense. As did our new weekly date night. If I have a regret, it was halving the recipe, particularly because I am getting hungry now and pining for leftovers. Of course we had no complaints last night as we poured an after-dinner glass of wine and sat in our living room, listening to a French playlist by candlelight — and to the silence of the baby monitor.
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 medium white onions
- 3 medium zucchini
- 2 medium eggplants
- 3 sweet red peppers, such as bell peppers, red cubanelle or any other sweet variety
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 cup olive oil, more as needed
- 2 large heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes
- 2 small bay leaves, ripped in half
- 1 ½ teaspoons fine sea salt, more as needed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare the vegetables: Smash and peel 3 garlic cloves, reserving the 4th. Halve onions through their roots, and slice halves into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Slice zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes or spears. Seed peppers, and cut them into 1/4-inch-thick strips.
- Spread each vegetable on a separate rimmed baking sheet (use extra sheets as necessary). Add the 3 cloves of smashed garlic to the onion pan. Add 1 sprig rosemary and 2 sprigs thyme to each of the pepper, eggplant and zucchini pans. Sprinkle salt lightly over vegetables. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil on each of the pans.
- Place all the pans in the oven (or work in batches if they don’t fit at once). Cook until vegetables are very tender and lightly browned at the edges. This will take about 35 to 40 minutes for the peppers (their skins should shrivel), 40 to 45 minutes for the eggplant and zucchini (the eggplant should crisp slightly and the zucchini should be well cooked, so let them go 3 to 5 minutes longer than you normally might), and 60 to 65 minutes for the onions. Don’t worry about the vegetables being pretty; they will meld into the ratatouille. Shake or stir the pans every 15 to 20 minutes or so, especially the onions.
- In the meantime, prepare the tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add tomatoes and blanch until the skins split, about 10 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer the tomatoes to a bowl filled with ice water.
- Using a paring knife, peel the cooled tomatoes (the skins should slip right off). Halve tomatoes across their equators. Set a sieve over a bowl. Working over the bowl, use your fingers to seed the tomatoes, letting the seeds catch in the sieve and the juice run into the bowl. Discard seeds but save juices. Dice tomatoes and add to the reserved juices in bowl.
- Finely grate or mince remaining garlic clove. Add garlic to tomatoes along with bay leaves and a large pinch of salt. Set aside.
- Once vegetables are done cooking, combine them on one baking sheet or a large shallow baking dish and add ingredients from tomato bowl. Toss well. Vegetables will be stacked, and that’s O.K. Cover generously with olive oil, using remaining ¼ cup oil or more, and sprinkle with salt. Everything should have a good coat of oil, but should not be drowning in it. Cook at least 1 hour, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes, until vegetables are very tender and imbued with juices and oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, then serve warm, or let cool.
Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Maple-Glazed Pecans
Ingredients | Makes about 1 Quart (1 Liter)
- 1 pound (450g) sweet potatoes, peeled
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (280ml) whole milk
- 2/3 cup (140g) packed light brown sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of Salt
- A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon Juice
- Wet Pecans (recipe below)
- Cut the sweet potatoes into 1-inch (3-cm) cubes. Place the cubed potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes, or until tender when poked with a sharp knife. Drain the sweet potatoes and let cool to room temperature.
- Pour the milk into a blender and add the brown sugar, sweet potato pieces, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Purée until very smooth, at least 30 seconds. Add lemon juice to taste. Press the mixture through a mesh strainer, using a flexible rubber spatula.
- Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. During the last few minutes of churning, add the pecans and their syrup.
For the Wet Pecans
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (140nl) dark amber maple syrup
- 1 ½ cups (150g) pecans, toasted and very coarsely chopped
- Big pinch of salt
- Heat the maple syrup in a small skillet or saucepan until it just begins to come to a full boil.
- Stir in the pecans, then cook until the liquid comes to a full boil once again.
- Stir the nuts for 10 seconds, then remove them from the heat and let cool completely. The nuts will be wet and sticky when cooled.
John Kelly is a writer, photographer, and owner of jpk.media, which helps companies and organizations tell the story behind their brand.
He lives in Wauconda, Illinois with his wife, Katrina, their daughter, Charlotte.
Heinen’s Grocery is located at 500 N. Hough Street, between E. Main Street and Route 14 (next to Meatheads) in Barrington, Illinois. They’re open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit Heinens.com.