What’s Cooking, Neighbor?
There are lots of reasons why Sarah Biglan loves her cozy studio apartment in East Village. A one block stroll brings her to the Rose Park farmers market or Stachowski’s butcher shop for her favored Italian sausage sandwich. She takes advantage of the nearby tennis courts and Rock Creek Park trails. Ris restaurant, where she works long hours as chef de cuisine with executive chef Ris Lacoste, is just a few streets away in the West End.
“There’s a nice neighborhood vibe,” says Biglan, a native of Atlantic City, N.J., and a 2002 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. “After two years of living here, you find yourself running into the same people, on their way somewhere. It’s a friendly, convenient community.”
There’s one problem. She would like to have people over for dinner but sadly, “there is simply no room.” Instead, Biglan’s friends invite her over to watch football (her preference) and together they whip-up a meal, taking advantage of her chef skills. “And my ratatouille casserole is everyone’s favorite,” she says.
With farmers markets overflowing with late summer produce, her timely recipe takes full advantage of the bounty. A particularly nice touch is the addition of cinnamon sticks, which she says, “brings out hidden flavor elements in vegetables.”
This is not a throw-together quick dish. There is a good deal of chopping and dicing. For best results, do not sauté the eggplant at high heat. “You have to be patient,” says Biglan. “You must develop the caramelization.” Israeli couscous can be substituted for the “thimbles” of ditali pasta. Don’t care for fresh goat cheese? Use mozzarella or feta. “But goat adds a tang and is lighter.” And the main course? Says Biglan: “My favorite is barbecued chicken.”
Biglan’s current favorite restaurants: Bourbon Steak at the Four Seasons for a hamburger and the dim sum brunch at the Source in downtown Washington.
Ratatouille Casserole Serves: 10
Ingredients: 1 medium zucchini, 1/4-inch dice 1 medium yellow squash, 1/4-inch dice 1 medium eggplant, 1/4-inch dice 2 red bell peppers, seeded, 1/4-inch dice 2 medium onions, julienned 4 ears of corn, kernels removed 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes 6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly 1/4 cup fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped 2 tbsp. fresh marjoram, stemmed and chopped 1/2 cup fresh basil, stemmed and sliced 2 bay leaf 2 cinnamon sticks 1 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 lb fresh goat cheese Salt and pepper to taste 1 pound ditali dry pasta (small, short tubes) cooked al dente in salted boiling water
Directions: In a large sauce pot over medium heat, brown the eggplant in the olive oil, lightly salting to extract juices, stirring occasionally, creating a light golden brown paste (about 15 minutes). Add the onions and garlic and wilt lightly (about 5 minutes). Add the zucchini, yellow squash, corn, and red peppers. Toss in a pinch of salt to establish flavor. Once the mix is cooked down (about 10 minutes), add the canned tomato, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for about one hour, uncovered, until the mix has developed a “chili” like consistency. Add the thyme, marjoram, and basil. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Spread the pasta in a 2 1/2 quart fireproof casserole dish and cover with the ratatouille mixture.. Place goat cheese disks on the top and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees until heated through, about 20 to 25 minutes.
What’s Cooking, Neighbor? visits with wine, food and entertaining professionals, who call the Georgetown area home. Walter Nicholls is the food critic for Arlington Magazine and a former staff writer for The Washington Post Food section.