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The battle of Verdun, a six month nightmare beginning in February 1916, that resulted in nearly a million – A MILLION – French and German casualties left the opposing sides so exhausted that it took two years before they were prepared to renew the killing, with the help of 16 American divisions (665,000 men), 20 miles north at St. Mihiel.
The War Guilt Clause finds its way to the French field kitchens at the St. Mihiel salient before the American assault begins. This is a novelist’s dream – let your imagination flow – French field kitchens? Why not? French chefs? Of course. Garlic. basil, rosemary, thyme? Most certainly.
From The War Guilt Clause, page 274:
Just then a bell rang and eight men in white aprons wearing tall white toques entered the area carrying large trays which they held, palm up, at shoulder height. On the trays were steaming bowls of French Ratatouille Chaud, a hot vegetable stew laced with garlic and herbs. The field kitchens in place for these several years here in the Lorraine were manned by some of the finest chefs in the land and they took their jobs seriously. Herb gardens of basil, rosemary, thyme, as well as rows and rows of garlic, grew in fenced areas near the kitchens.
From Time Life Books – The Cooking of Provincial France:
To serve 6 to 8
Three pounds firm ripe tomatoes; 2 eggplants peeled and sliced 3/4 inch thick; 2 zucchini unpeeled, sliced 1/2 inch thick; 1/2 cup olive oil; 2 green peppers, seeded and cut in 1-inch squares; 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions; 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley; 1 TBSfinely cut fresh basil or 2 tsp dried basil; 2 tsp finely chopped garlic cloves; salt, freshly ground black pepper.
Peel the tomatoes, cut them into quarters, and cut away the pulp and seeds, leaving only the shells. Cut the shells into 1/2 inch strips and drain on paper towels.
Lightly salt the eggplant and zucchini slices, spread them in one layer between paper towels, and weight them with a large, heavy platter. After 30 minutes, dry the eggplant and zucchini thoroughly with fresh paper towels.
In a heavy 12-inch skillet, bring 1/4 cup olive oil to the smoking point, and brown the eggplant slices for 1 minute on each side. Remove them to paper towels to drain. In the same skillet, lightly brown the zucchini, peppers, and onions one after another, adding more oil if necessary. Drain the zucchini and peppers on a paper towel, but remove the onions to a plate.
With a fork, stir the parsley, basil, and garlic together in a small bowl.
Pour 1 TBSP of the oil remaining in the skillet into a heavy 4 quart enameled casserole. Spread one third of the eggplant slices on the bottom, sprinkle 1 tsp of the herb and garlic mixture, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange successive layers of zucchini, peppers, onions, and tomatoes, sprinkling herbs, salt, and pepper on each layer. Finish with a layer of eggplant. Sprinkle with the remaining herb mixture, salt and pepper, and pour in the oil left in the skillet.
Over moderate heat, bring the casserole to a boil cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Every 7 minutes use a bulb baster to draw up the liquid and transfer the liquid to a small saucepan. In 25 minutes, when the vegetables are tender, remove the casserole from the heat. Briskly boil the liquid in the saucepan and pour it into the casserole.
Serve hot – Ratatouille Chaud . . . or cold – Ratatouille Froid . . . the lads on the Western Front would kill for Ratatouille Chaud.