A few weeks ago we had a houseful of out-of-town family spending the night before we all headed to Litchfield, Connecticut for my niece’s (Maggy and Sharon’s cousin’s) wedding. I was juggling getting the house ready for guests, hosting the bridesmaids for cocktails before their night out on the town, and taking breakfast to the wedding party.
And then there was this family dinner to host. I wanted it to be special—it was a rare night for us all—but I needed it simple and do-ahead too. The main course would be summery lasagna—more on that later. I’d serve salad too. Not an ordinary one. But what?
End of summer I naturally think ratatouille, and that’s when it came to me. I’d grill ratatouille vegetables—eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers and tomatoes—and then arrange them on a plate with droplets of vinaigrette, and a little feta for flavor.
The big day arrived. Table set and lasagnas assembled, I grilled the vegetables early afternoon. The girls in the kitchen, Sharon making Watermelon Gin Punch for the bachelorette party and Maggy assembling her famous fresh spring rolls, I walked into the kitchen with my freshly grilled vegetables. “Is there any reason I can’t assemble these salads at each place setting right now?” Both shook their heads, “No reason at all.” So Maggy and Sharon dropped what they were doing, and we all headed to the dining room. Sharon and I assembled the salads, and Maggy captured the shot. We loosely covered each salad with a little plastic wrap, and that was that. And when it was time for dinner that night, I simply pulled the plastic wrap and called everyone to the table.
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- Salt and ground black pepper
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 ounces (about ¾ cup) crumbled feta cheese, divided
- 1 large eggplant, trimmed and sliced about ½-inch thick
- 2 medium zucchini, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal about ½-inch
- 2 medium red onions, trimmed and cut into thick slabs
- 2 yellow or orange bell peppers, quartered, stemmed and seeded
- 4 Italian plum tomatoes, halved
- ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano
- Whisk garlic, lemon juice, mustard, vinegar, and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup. Whisk in ½ cup of oil, slowly at first to ensure mixture emulsifies, to make thick vinaigrette; whisk in ½ cup of the feta.
- Meanwhile, heat a gas grill igniting all burners on high for at least 10 minutes. Clean hot grate with a wire brush, then lubricate it with an oil-soaked rag or build a hot charcoal fire. Brush both sides of eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers, and tomatoes with remaining ¼ cup of oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place vegetables on hot rack and grill, turning only once (except tomatoes) until cooked with impressive grill marks, about 5 minutes per side. Leave tomatoes cut side up the entire time and cook until soft and slightly deflated, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove vegetables from grill. (Can be served right away or left at room temperature for a couple of hours.)
- When ready to serve, arrange a portion of vegetables on each salad plate, drizzle with vinaigrette, sprinkle with oregano, and a little extra feta.