Sunday afternoons ... in our home, they're traditionally taken up with thoroughly lazy (Tam says "restful") activities: Scrabble, football, Bill Watterson books. But this week we decided to add cooking-in-quantity to the list. This burst of activity is due mainly to an extremely unfortunate encounter Laura had last week with a ham and cheese sandwich in the cafeteria at the National Archives. In description, it sounded innocuous; but when it arrived, it proved to be not simple ham and cheese but stuffed instead with what the English call a "filling" (in this case, fake mayonnaise, processed shredded cheese and canned ham and onions; cheese and pickle is another popular combination). Having forgotten to make a lunch in the morning, she had no choice but reluctantly to swallow the soggy excuse for a sandwich and resolve to take her vengeance, or anyway to be diligent forevermore in packing her own midday repast.
So, today we engaged in a little easy cooking intended to provide delicious and healthy lunches for the week ahead. This concoction combines Middle Eastern-style couscous, flavored with olive oil, lemon and mint, with French ratatouille, made by roasting peppers, zucchini and eggplant (if you're English, courgettes and aubergines) until caramelly and sweet. Although now commonly made throughout western Europe and the United States, ratatouille was long a virtually unknown regional specialty of southern France, and there was no published recipe for it until the publication of a book called La Cuisine á Nice in 1930. It's highly flexible; you can incorporate any number of vegetables you might have around, and it can be eaten hot or cold. So, feel free to experiment!
Couscous with Ratatouille and Mint
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 bell peppers, whatever color you like, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 eggplant, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large zucchini, you guessed it, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 cups couscous
2 1/2 cups water
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread all vegetables except tomatoes on a large baking sheet and toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, oregano, red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast until browned and tender, about 1 hour. Add tomatoes and roast an additional 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat water to boiling and pour over couscous. Cover and seal tightly; leave for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork. Toss with remaining olive oil, lemon juice, mint, and salt and pepper. Mix in vegetables.
Makes about 8 lunch-time servings; this would also make a good side dish to accompany grilled lamb or chicken.