A big bell pepper with a ding in it, half of a large tomato and a handful of small ones, an eggplant, miscellaneous potatoes, and a couple of onions — I’m cleaning out my vegetable supply and it’s a perfect occasion to make ciambotta.
Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of ciambotta (sometimes spelled giambotta or cianfotta). You won’t find it on many restaurant menus, but you can find versions of it in just about any home kitchen in Southern Italy. It is a vegetable stew made from whatever vegetables are in season. Though you could eat it hot, it really tastes best when it is just warm. Like a lot of stews, the flavor improves the next day. I can make a whole meal of ciambotta, but it’s good as a side dish, too, with sausages or chops or chicken. Eat it plain, sprinkled with basil, extra virgin, or grated cheese, or mixed with scrambled eggs. Stuff it in a crisp hunk of Italian bread for a great sandwich or toss it with some cooked pasta. It’s all good.
Ciambotta (pronounced something like giam-boat) isn’t fancy or fussy and it is easy to make. In fact, in the Italian dialect of the region my family was from, to say that something is a “big giamboat” is to say that it is a big mixed up mess.
Trim all of the vegetables and cut them into bite size pieces. You can salt the eggplant if you are concerned that it may be bitter and want to drain off the juices, but I don’t often do that anymore. Saute the onion in some olive oil, and add garlic if you like. When the onion is tender, you stir in the remaining vegetables. Quantities or varieties are not really important and one more or less pepper, onion or potato won’t be a problem. Sometimes I add zucchini, or green beans. Some cooks add a hot chili to the mix. You can put in parsley or oregano if you like, but I think fresh basil, added at the end of the cooking time to protect its delicate flavor, is best. Fortunately, my garden still has some small basil leaves.
If you are one of those people who likes your vegetables crunchy, this is not the dish for you. By the end of the cooking, the eggplant and tomatoes will pretty much melt into a sauce and the potatoes will absorb the flavors of the other ingredients. Ciambotta is nothing if not comforting and rustic — I’m always amazed at how good it turns out.
This recipe is one that appeared in my book, 1,000 Italian Recipes, (John Wiley & Sons).
Serves 4 to 6
1 medium onion
1/4 cup olive oil
4 plum tomatoes
2 potatoes, peeled
1 medium eggplant
1 medium red pepper
1 medium yellow pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil or freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino romano
Trim the vegetables and cut them into bite size pieces. In a large skillet, cook the onion in the oil over medium low heat until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables are tender and most of the liquid is evaporated, about 40 minutes. If the mixture becomes too dry, add a couple of tablespoons of water. If there is too much liquid, uncover and cook 5 minutes more.
Serve warm or at room temperature plain, or drizzled with olive oil, or sprinkled with basil or cheese.
Variation: Ciambotta with Eggs: When the vegetables are ready, beat 4 to 6 eggs with salt until blended. Pour the eggs over the vegetables. Do not stir. Cover the pan. Cook until the eggs are set, about 3 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.