Italian Vegetable Stew (Ciambotta)

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They say man cannot live on bread alone.  I am not convinced.  I think I could live on bread alone.  There are so many types!  You can put fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, etc into bread – totally a balanced meal.  But if I make something other than bread (or anything else baked), then it’s usually soup.  I love making soup!  And is it a coincidence that it goes so well with bread?  Perhaps…

I love that with one pot of cooking, you can have a great, healthy meal for a few days.  I also like to freeze individual portions and thaw them out for quick weeknight meals, of course always accompanied by homemade bread (which also freezes very well!).  My favorite soup recipes are chock-full of veggies.  I figure if I am already chopping a few vegetables, might as well add some more.  This recipe for Italian Vegetable Stew from America’s Test Kitchen fits the bill perfectly.  It is full of vegetables and has so much fresh herb flavor from the pestata, which is similar to pesto.  It is a hearty yet healthy comfort food dish.
Ingredients

Ingredients

Chopped Veggies

Chopped veggies ready for the pot.  The eggplant has already been cooked down in the microwave

Pesto

Making the pestata (like pesto without the cheese and pine nuts).

Eggplant, Onion and Potatoes

Cooking the eggplant, onion and potatoes.

Make way for the tomato paste

Make way for the tomato paste.  See the brown fond developing on the bottom of the pot?  Flavortown.

Zucchini and bell peppers

Cook the zucchini and bell peppers in a separate skillet.

Veggies and pastata

Veggies and pestata, before being added to the soup pot. The smell when the pestata hits the hot skillet is unreal!

Pre and post basil

Pre and post fresh basil

And of course, nothing goes better with soup than homemade bread.  May I suggest a loaf of no-knead?

Soup and bread

The final product.  Sprinkled with some fresh parmesan and served with Irish Brown Bread.

Italian Vegetable Stew (Ciambotta)
Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

Pestata
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Stew
12 ounces eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 medium eggplant)
Salt
4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 1/4 cups water
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved and chopped coarse
2 zucchini, 8 ounces each, 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

Directions for Pestata
Process all ingredients in food processor until finely ground, scraping the sides as necessary.  Set aside

Directions for Stew
Toss the eggplant with 1 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl.  Line the surface of a large plate with a double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with cooking spray.  (I used paper towels because I don’t have coffee filters).  Microwave the eggplant, uncovered, until dry to the touch and slightly shriveled, 8-12 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that the eggplant cooks evenly.  Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering.  Add eggplant, onion, and potatoes; cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant browns and the surface of the potatoes becomes translucent, about 2 minutes.
Push the vegetables to the sides of the pot; add 1 tablespoon oil and the tomato paste to the clearing. Cook the paste, stirring frequently, until a brown fond develops on bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water and the chopped tomatoes and juice, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and gently simmer until the eggplant is completely broken down and the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until smoking. Add the zucchini, bell peppers, and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are browned and tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
Push the vegetables to the sides of the skillet and add the pestata.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then stir the pestata into the vegetables and transfer everything to a bowl. Add the remaining ¼ cup water to the skillet off heat, scraping up any browned bits.
Remove the Dutch oven from the heat and stir the reserved vegetables and the water from the skillet into the Dutch oven. Cover the pot and let it stand for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Stir in the basil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Comments

  1. Arvin Porthog says

    I chopped up all the vegetables last night and I’m making this for dinner after work today. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. I’ll be freezing some because a week or two in the freezer can do miraculous things to the flavor of soups.

      • Arvin Porthog says

        Some ATK recipes I will try and realize I won’t like them no matter what. Others don’t turn out so well but show promise so I keep working at them. This one was the latter. It wasn’t great but it was totally due to my own fault. The biggest mistake was using tomatoes canned in puree. The tomato flavor was overpowering. Next time I’ll try it with tomatoes packed in juice or fresh tomatoes. Second problem was too much fresh oregano. Again my own fault. I just threw in a whole bunch without bothering to measure out 1/3 cup like the recipe says. Thirdly, the potatoes were a bit underdone. I often don’t cook them quite enough because I know I’ll be reheating it and I hate mushy potatoes. Lastly I used too much salt on the eggplant, but then I generally don’t like very much salt in foods.

        The success of the recipe is how the eggplant melted into the silky sauce. What a great technique! I’ll try it again in a couple of weeks and do it right. I’ll also use a lot fewer potatoes and throw in some cannellini beans instead.

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