I’ve always liked legends and fairy tales. They speak of things from other worlds and teach important lessons about fear and perseverance. They are rich with magic, rife with darkness and wonder. Thus, when I first saw forbidden rice, so deeply purple that it looks black as night from afar, I was intrigued. Legend has it that this longevity rice was reserved for emperors of China and forbidden to the people. Its roasted nutty taste and soft texture led to its being treasured by royalty. Natural antioxidants, anthocyanins, give it the dark purple pigments, which are the same as those found in blueberries and acai. The forbidden rice adds a touch of drama to this light summer meal, a summer which seems to be packing up for a vacation quite soon.
My friend recently gave me a bunch of gorgeous misshapen heirloom tomatoes and squash from her garden. Their shapes were also reminiscent of the surreal, mysterious beauty of fairy tales. Between the forbidden rice, the misshapen vegetables- out of which I decided to make a quick version of ratatouille-and the earthly magic of landscapes I saw in Vermont (pics below) I had misty dark tales on my mind. I picked up a few chicken sausages from the market and decided to add my favorite plum sauce to keep it seasonal.
Why has legend and fantasy captured my attention so, of late? It’s a little escape from the waning of the free-spirited days of summer. While the weather and fruits of fall are beautiful, some of my favorites even (cider doughnuts!), it forces me to think about the year ahead and all of its portents. Both the real world and the enchanted netherworld are governed by the sometimes harsh rules of folk magic, which, if you look at it right, serve to highlight all that is fair and good. I figured I’d accept the gifts of both worlds by combining the bounty of the here and now with the creative stuff of legends and sorcery. It’s a celebration of sorts of the idea that seasons, relationships, states of being and moods all shape-shift in a way that keeps life interesting. Buen provecho!
- 1 cup forbidden/longevity rice
- 3 cups water
- pinch of salt
- half onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Sausages:
- 1 or 2 freshly made chicken apple sausages
- 1 or 2 freshly made spicy chicken sausages
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Plum SaUce:
- 4 plums, pitted and coarsely diced
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar (maybe even less if you like it more tart)
- 1/4 cup red wine (I hate wasting good wine, but you should only cook with something you’d happily drink. It’s only 1/4 cup, so maybe use your cheapest favorite (hello Casillero del Diablo Carmenere –$9.99), but I know it’s hard to part with
For the Ratatouille/Vegetable Tian:
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
- 1 cup tomato puree/sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 small eggplants
- 1 smallish zucchini
- 1 smallish yellow squash
- 1 longish red bell pepper (in the photos I ran out and used a chili pepper instead)
- Few sprigs fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
For the Rice:
In a medium pot over medium flame add the oil and chopped onions. Cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the water and bring to a boil. Add the rice and salt and cook on for 40 minutes. Lower the heat and cover.
For the Sausage:
Add oil to a medium pan over medium heat. Add sausages to pan, making sure to flip them. As they cook use your fork to poke small holes in the casing to let it breathe. Saute until browned on all sides.
For the Plum Sauce:
Bring the plums, cup of water, sugar and red wine to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring every once in a while. Remove from the flame but keep warm.
For the ratatouille/vegetable tian:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.
Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the edges intact, like a tube.
With a sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.
Over the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping a bit, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover if you don’t forget the bell pepper like I did.
Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.
Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper or a lid if your dish has one.
Bake for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. Serve warm.