Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ciambotta | Cookout . 5

Ciambotta is one of the definitive dishes of southern Italy - on a par with Pasta Puttanesca - a vegetable stew simply using the bounty of the family's kitchen garden or the local farmers' market. Pronounced, this melange of fresh garden produce also figures variously among Italians and Italian-Americans as slang for a big mix-up, mess or an obsession.

Jambot is fairly fast, flexible and forgiving but several things are key. First - using the freshest ingredients picked at their peak. Second - salting and draining the eggplant and tomatoes. Third - cooking some of the vegetables separately to their optimum time before combining them.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 large (1-1/2 pounds) onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced and mashed with salt
3 large celery stalks, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
4 large (1 pound) carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 large (1-1/2 pounds) eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 pound zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 10-ounce bags frozen corn kernels
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
A pinch each of basil, oregano, tarragon and thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup capers, rinsed and drained
6 medium-hot cherry bell peppers, seeded and minced
Parmesan cheese, grated
Garlic bread

Toss the eggplant cubes in a bowl with 2 teaspoons salt. Turn into a colander and let it sit over a bowl for 30 minutes or so to sweat out the bitter juices. Rinse, drain and squeeze dry between two clean tea towels.

Paste tomatoes such as plum or Roma varieties can be chopped and added directly to the cooking pot. Other garden varieties often have a high water content and after chopping should be lightly salted and left to drain in a colander for 30 minutes or so. Save the tomato water for possible addition to the stew at some point if it looks too dry. Some cooks also prefer to seed and peel the tomatoes. To peel tomatoes dunk them in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes until the skins split then run them under cold water. They'll then peel easily.

Heat the oil in a large heavy cooking pot over a medium-high flame. Add the onions, garlic, celery and carrots. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant and wine. Cook about 10 minutes, with some stirring.

Add the tomatoes, peppers, olives and herbs. Lower the heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over a medium-hight flame in a cast iron skillet. Saute the mushrooms until they're browned.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the green beans to tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer them to a large mixing bowl using a slotted spoon. Add the zucchini to the boiling water and cook until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Move them to the mixing bowl with the slotted spoon. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook until barely tender, about 10 minutes. Add to the the beans and zucchini using the slotted spoon. Cook the corn following the timing on the package, Drain and add to the boiled vegetables.

Add the boiled vegetables and sauted mushrooms to the stew and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve in soup bowls with capers fried in a little olive oil, hot peppers, cheese and garlic bread.

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