“Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
The ragout of Jane Austen wrote about, and we are told enjoyed, was a relatively exotic, spicy dish that I can say was probably nothing like Alice Water’s Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato found in The Art of Simple Food (2007). Jane Austen’s contemporary, Regency Era readers would have understood the character comparison: Elizabeth Bennet preferred good, common sense, “John Bull” English food whereas Mr. Hurst preferred the exotic, imported food styles of the European Continent. “John Bull” was the patriotic English yeoman used in Napoleonic War propaganda to contrast the solid English people to the floozy Neopoleonic French. Elizabeth’s lack of sophistication that generations of readers, and Mr. Darcy, admire is what has kept Pride and Prejudice in constant print for over two hundred years.
Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato is not a spicy ragout. I had problems as I made this recipe from what I perceived as the limited use of spices. I eventually learned this recipe is not about decorating and compensating vegetables but celebrating fresh, summer vegetables.
I purchased several ingredients at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Zucchini: $5.50. Tomatoes: $2.00. Onion: $0.50 (Fig 1). I did not have bread to toast, as suggested by the recipe, so I prepared brown rice. I roasted several cloves of fresh garlic and added the soft garlic the cooked brown rice.
The bacon from the recipe was home cured and smoked by my father. He used a maple cure. Once you have had fresh, home-made bacon, you cannot eat the stuff sold in the grocery stores. Home-made bacon stands, its broad shoulders straight and shouts as it touches your tongue, “Bacon!” Whereas store-bought bacon slouches into your mouth with its hands in its pockets and mutters “Yeah, I’m bacon.”
The recipe is very straight forward (Fig 2). I would freeze the bacon firm to make cutting the bacon easier. I would slice and dice all vegetables before starting. The timing is accurate for the preparation steps. Once things start happening, there is no time to prepare ingredients without overcooking the other vegetables.
Warmed up the next day for lunch at work, it tasted fine (Fig 4). The vegetables were a bit watery. I served it with pasta that is supposed to contain a serving of vegetables. I think this dish may be best consumed on the day of cooking.
As I have play with recipes from this Alice Water’s cookbook, I appreciate what she is doing. The quality and tastiness of the ingredients are on display. You could not successfully make this recipe “as-is” in January with anemic, hydroponic tomatoes and imported, cardboard zucchini. This zucchini ragout demands quality ingredients which I am lucky to have access to through my mid-Missouri, local farmer’s market. Go to the library and check the cookbook out.
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Publishers