Vegetable: Ratatouille
It started as a poor man’s dish, but ratatouille has found its way into the finest French restaurants and onto dinner tables of every caliber. Essentially, it’s an incredibly easy vegetable stew that never fails to impress.

1 pound eggplant, cut into cubes
1 3/4 teaspoons plus 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
2 1/2 pounds peeled tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup loosely packed, chopped fresh basil
3/4 cup loosely packed, chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 pounds white onions, thinly sliced
3 red or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
2 pounds zucchini, cut lengthwise and then into ½ inch slices
1/3 cup dry white wine
Good quality extra virgin olive oil for cooking and serving

Place a single layer of paper towels on two large plates; place cubed eggplant onto the plates and sprinkle with 1 ¾ teaspoon salt. Allow the eggplant to sit for 20 minutes to release water and create a less soggy dish.

In a large saucepan, gently cook the tomatoes, garlic, black pepper, basil and parsley, uncovered, over medium heat, without boiling. In a large skillet, sauté the onions and peppers in a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned. Remove skillet from heat and transfer the browned vegetables to the tomato mixture.
Pat eggplant dry with a fresh paper towel and add it, along with the zucchini, to tomato mixture. Cover the pot and cook the stew over medium-low heat for 45 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Add the wine and 3/4 teaspoon additional salt and cook for another 5 minutes.

8-12 servings.

Vegetable: Spinach Soufflé
Just the word “soufflé” can spark fear in the heart of any chef. They’re notoriously tricky to prepare, yet they’re really not out of reach for even the beginning cook. This spinach version makes a tasty, beautiful side or the entrée of a light lunch.

1 1/2 tablespoons plus 4 tablespoons softened butter, divided
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spinach, stemmed and chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush the inside of a large casserole dish (or 6 individual ramekins) with 1 1/2 tablespoons of softened butter. Sprinkle the buttered surface evenly with grated Parmesan cheese and set aside.

Gently heat a large saucepan, add chopped spinach and sauté until it wilts and the juices have evaporated. In a separate medium saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat and stir in flour and salt with a wooden spoon. Cook, whisking constantly, for 30 seconds to cook out the flour. Add the milk to the flour while whisking vigorously and cook for about 4 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Add the chopped spinach to the flour mixture and continue cooking over medium heat for one minute. Season the mixture with black pepper and nutmeg.

Whisk 1/2 cup of the hot spinach into the egg yolks, then add the egg yolk mixture back into the hot spinach, stirring to incorporate.
Beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. Stir one-third of the egg whites into the spinach, then fold remaining egg whites into the mixture. Spoon mixture into prepared dish/dishes and bake for 30 minutes, until the soufflé is puffed up and cooked through. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Dessert: Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate Mousse is one of the icons of the French dessert table, and you’d be surprised just how easy it is to make this rich custard. Try garnishing with fresh raspberries and whipped cream for a beautiful finish to your French meal.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and kept lukewarm
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream

Heat 2/3 cup cream in small saucepan until it just begins to steam. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, and then add 1/2 hot cream, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the warm egg-cream blend back into the hot cream in the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 165 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and melted chocolate. Chill the chocolate custard thoroughly.

Beat remaining 1 1/3 cups cream in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Thoroughly stir 1/2 cup of the whipped cream into the chilled chocolate custard, then gently fold in the remaining cream. The chocolate mousse is ready when the chocolate custard is thoroughly incorporated into the whipped cream, showing no marbling. Serve chilled

Serves 8.