Shortly after arriving at college, I decided to study abroad. It was one of those rare and beautiful decisions that seem to make themselves. I had studied French for several years in high school, so I would go to France, of course.
Just a couple of weeks after turning twenty-one, I boarded a plane to Paris with two other girls, wide-eyed and ready for adventure. I hardly remember packing for the trip, but I clearly recall the combined thrill of confusion, exhaustion and embarrassment that followed upon landing on a foreign continent.
Somehow, we found our way from Paris to Bordeaux, first via train, then tram. Along the way, we heaved our luggage up long flights of stairs and squeezed them into our travel compartments. Our final test was pulling our belongings behind us across an endless gravel parking lot to our dilapidated dorm buildings. Given the option to either laugh or cry, I found myself giggling like a maniac as my wrists went numb from the vibrations and my arms threatened to fall clean off.
In Bordeaux, we tried to live as cheaply as possible, which meant that we cooked in the dorms almost every night. In town, we stocked up on the essentials: dried pasta and baguettes, jarred pasta sauce, fruit and vegetables, cheese, wine and beer. When we first arrived, it was cold enough outside that we could hang out cheese and beer out the window in plastic grocery bags. After winter ended, I realized that, well, refrigeration isn’t quite as necessary as I had previously thought.
Every night, we met up in a dorm kitchen and cooked dinner together using a couple of pots and pans we’d bought on the cheap. Our tiled, pink “kitchens” were relatively spacious given the lack of a refrigerator, oven and microwave. Each floor’s kitchen offered a sink and an electric stovetop that usually worked. That’s all.
My two friends were content eating plain spaghetti with tomato sauce and bread every night, but I branched out with vegetables and spices. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had fun playing with my dinners. One of my favorite combinations was sautéed zucchini and red bell pepper with spicy arrabbiata sauce. Constraints fostered creativity in those run-down kitchens, and I discovered a new interest in cooking.
I also discovered good beer while I was there. I left the U.S. with a distaste for beer in general and came back with a long list of newfound favorites. My two friends were a year older than me and introduced me to the European beers I had been missing out on.
I quickly learned that Belgians make the best beer. Stella Artois’ logo was everywhere we went in Europe. Stella Artois is a lovely, light, well-balanced pilsner made with five basic ingredients: water, barley malt, hops, non-malted grains and Stella Artois’ unique yeast strain. It’s malty with a crisp, slightly bitter finish—meaning that it pairs well with a wide variety of meals, from light to hearty. Try spicy dishes (think Indian, Mexican, Thai), cheese (cheese plates, pizza) and this mostly ratatouille pasta dish.
Stella Artois asked me to share a heritage-style recipe that pairs well with their beer. I came up with this spicy, roasted, mostly vegetable pasta dish, which features classic French ratatouille flavors and reminds me of those dinners in Bordeaux. Once you’ve diced your vegetables, the dish comes together with minimal effort for a spicy, satisfying, healthy meal.
Stella Artois recently released a beautiful series of three videos that explores the rich heritage behind the crafts of baking, beer making and butchery. The baker’s video left me feeling inspired to learn more about how to pair beer with food. Watching model Chrissy Teigen explore Stella Artois’ roots in the beer maker’s video made me want to hop a plane to Belgium. Let’s go!
You can watch The Butcher, The Baker, The Belgian Beer Maker videos over here on YouTube. Enjoy!
- 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), diced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 medium yellow squash, diced
- 1 medium red bell pepper (or orange or yellow), diced
- 1 medium yellow or white onion, diced
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 6 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Red pepper flakes
- ½ pound (8 ounces) whole grain spaghetti
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit with two racks in the middle positions. On a quarter pan or small baking dish, toss the whole baby tomatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the diced eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, bell pepper and onion. Whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, a few generous twists black pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Drizzle it over the vegetables and toss with your hands or a large spoon until the vegetables are evenly coated.
- On a half-sheet pan or other large, rimmed baking sheet, arrange the vegetables in a single layer. Place the tomatoes on the lower oven rack and the vegetables on the upper rack. Set the timer for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large post of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup pasta cooking water. Transfer the cooked pasta to a large serving bowl.
- After 20 minutes, remove both pans from the oven. The tomatoes should be bursting and juicy by now, in which case, they’re done cooking. Use a spatula to toss the vegetables, then arrange them in a single layer again and put them back in the oven for an additional 10 minutes or so, until they are cooked through and golden.
- Pour the cherry tomatoes and their juices over the spaghetti into the serving bowl. If you want your pasta to be pretty cheesy, now’s the time to sprinkle on a generous handful of shredded Parmesan. Add a baby splash of pasta cooking water and toss until the pasta is coated with a light tomato sauce.
- Add the cooked vegetables to the bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle with the chopped fresh herbs and season with additional salt, pepper and red pepper flakes until the flavors really sing. Serve with Parmesan on the side.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Stella Artois and I received compensation for my participation. Opinions are my own, always. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who support C+K!