I made this stew in hopes of getting something healthful and nutritious into my diet. It tends to be quite the challenge to do that when I am constantly looking at buttery, sugary desserts and delicious dinners to make for the blog…. but sometimes I’ve just got to bunker down and force myself to find a recipe that is healthy, delicious, and appealing that I can make and share with you guys. When I saw this recipe in a recent issue of Cooks Illustrated I knew that it would be the perfect healthy dish to share.
This Italian stew (Ciambotta) is akin to France’s ratatouille. Just like ratatouille, it is made with eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes. I’ve never made ratatouille before so I can’t say exactly how similar they are as far as flavor. Plus this Ciambotta is made with potatoes- pretty sure ratatouille doesn’t have potatoes.
What really appealed to me about this Ciambotta is the pestata which is added to it at the end of cooking. The pestata is very much like pesto, made with fresh basil, oregano, garlic, olive oil, and crushed red pepper. Not only does the pestata make this recipe unique but the method of cooking is really interesting too, although I think that has more to do with Cooks Illustrated as the authors rather than the traditional preparation. The eggplant is salted and microwaved between coffee filters to par-cook and draw out excess moisture. This prevents it from drawing up the oil like a sponge during the saute and releasing any excess juices. It is able to achieve a nice caramelization. The zucchini and peppers are sauteed separately for the same reason- to rid themselves of excess moisture before being added to the stew. The whole reason for getting rid of all that moisture in the veggies is to achieve the greatest depth of flavor. And honestly I think it makes for a whole lot of extra dishes, but the results are really good so who am I to argue?
Plus! Think of all the delicious veggies that this Ciambotta is packed with! How wonderfully nutritious this stew must be for you. Delicious AND nutritious. You can’t go wrong with that in my book.
- ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil
- ⅓ cup fresh oregano leaves
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- 12 ounces eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 4 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 lb russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 Tb tomato paste
- 2¼ cup water
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved and chopped coarse
- 2 zucchini (8 ounces each), seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 2 red or yellow bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 cup shredded fresh basil
- For the Pestata: Process all ingredients in food processor until finely ground, about 1 minute, scraping sides as necessary; set aside.
- For the Stew: Toss eggplant with 1½ tsp salt in bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant evenly over coffee filters. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to the touch and slightly shriveled, 8 to 12 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly.
- Heat 2 Tb 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 Tb 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 a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and gently simmer until eggplant is completely broken down and potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 Tb oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking. Add zucchini, bell peppers, and ½ tsp salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are browned and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Push vegetables to sides to 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 brown bits.
- Remove pot from heat and stir in reserved vegetable mixture 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.