Italian Vegetable Stew (A.K.A. Ciambotta)

Down here in the South it just started to get into the 30’s and it is time to start the search for hearty recipes that will warm you up. I am a huge fan of Italian cooking but never knew of the dish that is lovingly referred to by many as Ciambotta. The recipe consists of roasted eggplant that melts into the stew as it cooks and creates a wonderful flavor and consistency. Other vegetables vary the textures and is an excellent bread dipping soup.

We found this recipe on our trial of Cook’s Illustrated recently and decided to give it a go. Per usual, the hit the nail on the head and provided an excellent insight into the dish and elevated it.

Don’t forget the crusty bread!

Ingredients
Pestata
⅓ cup chopped fresh basil
⅓ cup fresh oregano leaves
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
Stew
12 oz eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 ¼ cups water
1 (28-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved and chopped coarse
2 zucchini (8 ounces each), seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 red or yellow bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup shredded fresh basil

Preparation Steps
1. FOR THE PESTATA: Process all ingredients in food processor until finely ground, about
1 minute, scraping sides as necessary. Set aside.

2. FOR THE STEW: Toss eggplant with 1½ teaspoons salt in bowl. Line surface of large
plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread
eggplant in even layer over coffee filters. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to
touch and slightly shriveled, 8 to 12 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that
eggplant cooks evenly.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add eggplant,
onion, and potatoes; cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant browns and surface of
potatoes becomes translucent, about 2 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of pot; add 1
tablespoon oil and tomato paste to clearing. Cook paste, stirring frequently, until brown
fond develops on bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and chopped
tomatoes and juice, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to
medium, cover, and gently simmer until eggplant is completely broken down and
potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until
smoking. Add zucchini, bell peppers, and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally,
until vegetables are browned and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of
skillet; add pestata and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir pestata into vegetables
and transfer vegetables to bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup water to skillet off heat, scraping
up browned bits.

5. Remove pot from heat and stir reserved vegetables and water from skillet into
vegetables in Dutch oven. Cover pot and let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to
meld. Stir in basil and season with salt to taste; serve.

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