Remembering the Benji Frank: Oven-Roasted Ratatouille, Salmon and Red Quinoa (Part I)

When Heather first moved to L.A., we lived in the same tall, narrow, art deco building in Koreatown. It had a façade that was meticulously painted a hideous grey-purple, a cramped, dirty elevator with holes in the walls and confusing doors, and it felt a lot—no, exactly—like my college dorm in New York.

It also had a tiny hand-painted sign that read, in squashed letters, “The Benjamin Franklin Apartments.” We called it the Benji Frank.

My apartment was on the first floor, sandwiched between the aging weirdoes and Hollywood cast-offs who had lived there for decades. Heather moved in a few floors up, where the neighbors seemed to me slightly more normal, mostly young professionals looking for cheap rent or families with modest incomes.

But while the neighborhood was nothing to brag about, a jumble of half-way houses, Korean wedding stores, and hair salons, it was a culinary mecca. We were walking-distance to a Korean grocery store, which stocked all the kimchi, peeled garlic, thinly sliced meat, cheap produce, dried mushrooms, and sesame cookies a girl could want. We were near some of the best East Asian restaurants in the world. And we were close to the Larchmont Farmer’s Market.

The first time I brought Heather to the Larchmont market, we went crazy, buying marinated artisanal feta and rare French farmer’s cheese. When we got hungry, we ate fresh tamales and juicy figs, crouched on a stoop in a parking lot. It was love. Soon we shopped there religiously, buying heirloom vegetables, expensive cheeses, fresh fishes. And we began cooking more, egging each other on to try more ambitious recipes.

Neither of us lives in the Benji Frank now, and over two years have passed since we were neighbors, but this past Sunday, we went back to Larchmont, where it all started. And it was there that I bought the ingredients to a dish I learned to make at the Benji Frank, in my heavy vintage gas oven, windows shut tight against the neighborhood crazies and stray cats. It’s a dish that I love for a million reasons, and would happily make and eat every week for the rest of my life.

So with that long introduction, here is my oven-roasted ratatouille, part one of a three-part dinner that I made with my friends Morgan and Jonathan tonight. Unbelievably healthy, unfailingly delicious, this ratatouille can be served with meat or fish, on top of polenta or rice, baked with eggs, stirred into a quiche, cooled and served as a salad with a cold grain or feta… You get the idea. Salmon and quinoa recipes to follow.

Enjoy!

Anna

Oven-Roasted Ratatouille

Serves 6

2 1/2 hours

  • 1 eggplant, skin-on, coarsely chopped
  • 2 leeks, trimmed, halved lengthwise, and chopped into 1” pieces
  • 2 zucchinis, halved lengthwise, hopped
  • 4 tomatoes (I used large vine-ripened tomatoes), coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 lb. carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra
  • 1 tbsp. thyme
  • ½ tbsp. rosemary
  • 1 tsp. tarragon
  • 1 tsp. dill
  • salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F and place rack in the middle. Coarsely chop eggplant, leeks, zucchinis, tomatoes, carrots, and onion. Add chopped garlic, and toss in a large bowl with olive oil, herbs, and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Spread vegetables into two large baking dishes (I used two glass 9X13 pans), cover tightly with foil, and bake, covered for 40 min., or until vegetables soften and release juices. Uncover, and bake another 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 min. until the juices have mostly evaporated and the vegetables at the edge of the pan are starting to caramelize.

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Filed under Gluten-free, Main Course, Side, Vegetarian

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