I am making an Italian “chicken under brick” this Sunday. I needed an Italian vegetable dish to go with it. I based the chicken on a Mario Batali recipe, that Richard May had posted, and this led me to Batali’s recipe for Ciambotta.
Ciambotta is an Italian ratatouille. Ciambotta usually contains both eggplant and potatoes, this is a problem for my diners. Miriam and I cannot eat eggplant—we lack the enzymes to digest some compound in this plant. Chris, Myr’s husband, is on a diet that excludes potatoes.
Moving the potatoes to a separate dish was an easy call. But how do you make a dish without an ingredient that most recipes call for? One recipe gave me the clue; mushrooms could substitute for the eggplant.
Many recipes call for simply throwing everything into the pot and cooking it together until tender. Cook’s Illustrated pointed out that when the vegetables released their liquids the sauce became watery and bland. Their solution was to pan fry the squash and peppers separately, to dry them out, before adding them to the sauce. I decided that a more hands off approach would work. I was already oven roasting my potatoes; why not roast the vegetables as well?
Cook’s Illustrated’s other innovation, from the common ciambotta recipe, was in the use of, what they called, a pestata. In Italian cooking this means to grind some of the recipe’s ingredients into a paste—this may be meat, vegetables or, as in this case, the herbs. By adding this in the last few minutes of cooking you retain the volatile flavor components that would be lost—evaporated or broken down—by a long cooking time. You make the pastata first to give the ingredients time to meld, while you are cooking the rest of the dish.
Karl’s Ciambotta (Italian Vegetable Stew)
2 Tbs. olive oil
¼ cup fresh basil, minced
¼ cup flat-leafed (Italian) parsley, minced
1 Tbs. fresh oregano, minced
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 Tbs. olive oil, separate uses
½ lb. Crimini mushrooms
1½ lbs. tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 medium yellow onion, diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed, separate uses
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp. black pepper
2 lb. mixed summer squash (zucchini, gooseneck, Italian, etc)
1 lb. mixed bell peppers (green, red, orange and/or yellow)
1 Tbs. Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
1. Put the pastata ingredients (olive oil, basil, parsley, oregano, lemon juice and garlic) into a blender and process to a smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a small bowl and reserve until later.
Tip: The lemon juice will prevent the paste from turning black and unappealing.
2. Brush and stem the mushrooms and cut them in half.
3. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes. Reserve in a separate bowl
Tip: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut a cross in the base of the tomatoes and blanch them for two minutes. Transfer the tomatoes to a cool water bath to stop them from cooking. The skins should be easy to peel off. Cut the tomatoes in half at the equator and remove the seeds and tomato jelly to a small cup. Chop the tomatoes into small pieces and put them in a bowl. Using a sieve, press out the tomato jelly into the tomato bowl. Discard the seeds.
3. Add one tablespoon of oil to a deep pot, or Dutch oven, over medium high heat.
Tip: My personal preference is for using a cast iron Dutch oven, but it is not strictly necessary.
4. Sauté the mushrooms until well browned. Transfer them to a bowl when done.
5. Without cleaning the pot, add one tablespoon of oil and sauté the onions until well browned, about six minutes.
6. Pull the onions to the sides of the pot and add two crushed cloves of garlic to the hole in the center. Sauté the garlic for one minute and stir it into the onions.
7. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot again and add the tomato paste. Cook the tomato paste, stirring constantly, until dark and stir in the vegetables.
8. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
9. Pre-heat the oven to 500º F.
10. Mix the remaining two tablespoons of oil, the oregano, rosemary, pepper, and the remaining two cloves of crushed garlic in a medium sized bowl.
11. Chop the squash and peppers into medium bite sized pieces and put them in the bowl with the oil mixture. Toss to coat.
12. Spread the vegetables out on a shallow, lipped baking tray and pour any remaining oil mixture over the vegetables.
Tip: You may lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the baking sheet to make cleanup easier.
13. Roast for 20 minutes, until tender and starting to char.
Tip: Stir once half way through the cooking time to prevent scorching.
14. Stir the pastata and the roasted vegetables into the sauce and simmer for five more minutes.
15. Remove the pot from the heat and let the ciambotta rest, covered, for five minutes to let the flavors meld.
16. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with some chopped Italian parsley.