August is my month for ratatouille. Zucchini is still coming in. Tomatoes and peppers are bursting on the scene. Fresh garlic and fragrant basil are in season and abundant.
JULIA KNEW THE SECRET.
I made my first ratatouille to rave reviews using a Julia Child recipe. Her version was spot on because she knew the secret. She was not afraid of fat and in retrospect we can say she was slightly ahead of her time. I used a generous hand and the best olive oil I could afford just like Julia said I should.
Julia made her mark in the 1960s and 1970s so she missed a head on collision with the fat phobic era that gripped our nation starting mid 1980s.
DECADES OF FAT PHOBIA IMPACTED RECIPE DEVELOPMENT.
In October 1998, a magazine written from what was considered then to be a healthy perspective published a recipe for ratatouille. Eating Well was able to strip out enough olive oil to get the calories from fat down to a measly 33%. In other words about half the amount of olive oil as Julia called for in her recipe.
The most austere recipe I pulled up searching for low fat ratatouille was from 2008. This recipe substituted cooking spray for olive oil and successfully reduced the calories from fat down to an austere level of 10%.
It never occurred to me ratatouille was not healthy until I went back to school to study nutrition in mid 1990s. That decade marks the pinnacle of reductionist nutrition thinking and I was taught that too many calories from fat was unhealthy regardless of what else was on the plate. Times change and thankfully today that draconian approach to healthy is no longer in force.
WHY DID VEGETABLES GET HIT SO HARD?
Because vegetables have almost no calories. By weight they are mostly water plus good fiber, some carbohydrates, some protein, and a rich array of vitamins, minerals, pigments, phytonutrients.
Fats like olive oil are calorie dense so when the oil gets added to eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes — all of which have practically no calories — of course most of the calories will come from fat. A well crafted ratatouille clocks in between 60 TO 70% calories from fat.
RUNNING THE NUMBERS MY WAY.
We need a new scoring system. Negatives count but so do positives. Perhaps it’s time to look at the whole plate. Perhps there’s a way to score that plate piled high with ratatouille as a single delicious whole.
So using research done at Oxford a decade or so ago, I came up with a metric. My own gourmet scoring metric.
Sodium and saturated fat are currently identified as negatives. I use both salt (40% sodium) and olive oil (13% saturated fat). But the rest of the plate is all vegetables which are an excellent source of fiber as well as a smattering of protein. Balancing negatives against positives, I determined they are just about equal with a slight edge to positives. In other words, the value of vegetables and fiber outweigh the sodium and saturated fat.
AUGUST IS A GOOD MONTH FOR CELEBRATION.
August is the optimal month for ratatouille. August is the month Julia was born. And August is the month I finally figured out how to score my ratatouille healthy.
Or I can send you a copy of my recipe if you message me via LinkedIn or Facebook.