Maryline Damour began gardening a few years ago after she moved to the Hudson Valley from Brooklyn, NY. An interior designer by trade and a longtime city girl, she confides that she had barely ever owned a plant before, let alone grown a vegetable. But you’d never know it when you walk through her lush garden. Her basil is the tallest and healthiest I’ve ever seen and her raised beds are filled with a thriving assortment of vegetables and flowers. As a designer, Maryline brings an artistic flair to every detail of her garden. As she says, “vegetable gardens are great if you can involve all the senses”, and so from the aroma of the herbs to the sound of the pea gravel as you walk through the space to the unique garden fence with its eye-catching diagonal angles, all your senses are in for a treat! Spending an afternoon with Maryline, it is instantly obvious she is one these people who brings style and beauty to everything she touches.
As someone who is very passionate about soil health, as soon as I saw how productive Maryline’s plants are, I wondered what she feeds her soil. Her secret is… mushroom dirt! In other words, the soil from a local mushroom farm after it’s been used to grow mushrooms. Each year, along with some fellow neighboring gardeners, Maryline splits a truckload of the precious mushroom dirt and from years of adding it to her raised beds, her garden soil is now deep black and teeming with healthy microbes and nutrients that plants absolutely love.
Although Maryline’s work usually involves interior design, she tells me that since COVID she has received a sudden surge of requests from clients who are seeking exterior design in the form of a new garden space. As a result, she has recently gained a reputation as a sought after garden designer. As she says in the video, she sees the increased interest in gardening as a sign that people want to become more self-sufficient and to connect to the source of their food. Gardening is, after all, a deep source of comfort, joy, and delicious healthy food, three things we could all use a bit more of in these uncertain times.
Maryline’s ratatouille is a proud celebration of late summer bounty, showcasing homegrown zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh herbs. It’s a hearty vegetable-focussed meal of French origins, perhaps best known to Americans because of the 2007 Disney film by the same name. It’s truly a dish worth getting better acquainted with. It’s simple to make, the ingredients are all freshly and locally available at this time of year, and it can be served on its own or as an accompaniment to a meat dish, an omelet, a couscous, or simply a slice of toast. Maryline’s secrets are a little splash of low-sodium tamari for extra umami during cooking, some fresh torn basil leaves added before serving and a glug of good, aged balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!
Maryline Damour’s Ratatouille
Maryline’s ratatouille is a proud celebration of late summer bounty, showcasing homegrown zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and fresh herbs. Read more about this recipe in this Kitchen Vignettes post.
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 3 to 4 Tbsp olive oil
- A handful of fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dry thyme)
- Salt & red pepper flakes
- 2 medium zucchinis, cubed
- 1 red pepper, chopped (mild or hot, based on your preference)
- 1 medium eggplant, cubed
- 3 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (or a quart of cherry tomatoes)
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste (optional)
- 1 tsp low-sodium tamari sauce (optional)
- 1/3 cup vegetable stock or water
- Optional garnish: fresh basil leaves and balsamic vinegar
- In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the diced onion in the olive oil for a few minutes until softened. Add the minced garlic, thyme leaves, a couple pinches of salt, and red pepper flakes to your taste. Cook for another couple of minutes until the garlic is fragrant and the onions are translucent.
- Add the chopped zucchini and cook for around 3 minutes. Add with the chopped pepper, cooking for around 3 minutes. Then follow with the chopped eggplant and chopped tomatoes, cooking 3 minutes between each addition and adding a little salt to ensure each new vegetable is well-seasoned.
- Once all the vegetables are simmering in the pot, add a bit of the vegetable stock and tomato sauce if using. Add just enough to create a bit of sauce around the vegetables. Ratatouille is a stew, it should not be a dry dish.
- Taste the ratatouille and add more salt and red peppers flakes if needed. To add some earthy umami flavor, add a few splashes of low-sodium tamari if you wish. Add a bit more water or vegetable stock as needed.
- The ratatouille is ready when the vegetables are cooked through but still hold their shape. As an optional garnish, stir in a few splashes of good, aged balsamic vinegar and fresh torn basil leaves right before serving.
Aube Giroux is a food writer, a James Beard award-winning documentary filmmaker and a passionate organic gardener and home cook, who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.