I needed a bit of salesmanship to convince my family that this vegetable stew was worthwhile. It is essentially an Italian-version of Ratatouille, so I used Remy-the-mouse metaphor, and his ability to transform this seemingly plain dish into a big success with an important food critic. While I was able to convince them to try it, unfortunately the meal was not a success. The stew was fairly well-balanced and the vegetables were perfectly cooked. But the tomatoes tasted as though they came out of a can. I can give it only 3-stars. But I do believe in full disclosure. This is the recipe that I was least excited to make this year; I think if I was not predisposed against vegetable stew that it would be 4-stars.
Rating: 3 stars.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess? Medium/High.
Started: 5:00 PM. Dinner: 6:30 PM.
Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
6 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small eggplant (about 12 ounces)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion
1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 potatoes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2-1/4 cups water
28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 zucchini (8-oz each)
2 red or yellow bell peppers
1 cup shredded fresh basil
- To prepare the pestata, roughly chopped fresh basil and remove fresh oregano leaves from stems. Peel 6 garlic cloves and roughly chop. Add all ingredients into a food processor, process for 1 minute until everything is finely ground. It will be necessary to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Set aside until step 6.
- Use a potato peeler to peel eggplant and cut into 1/2″ dice. Put into bowl with 1-1/2 teaspoons table salt’ toss to combine. Line a large plate with two layers of coffee filters. Spray filters lightly with vegetable oil spray, and evenly spread eggplant over the filters. Microwave for about 10 minutes; mixing half way through cooking time so that it cooks evenly.
- While egg plant is in microwave, Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2″ dice. Peel and chop a large onion. Drain your tomatoes; reserving the juice, and coarsely chop. Seed and cut your zucchini into 1/2″ dice. Remove the seeds and ribs of your bell pepper, and cut into 1/2″ dice.
- Set a Dutch oven over high burner. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and preheat until it begins to shimmer.
- Saute eggplant, onion, and potatoes for 2 minutes. Move vegetables towards the sides, add another 1 tablespoon olive oil to the clearing. Cook tomatoes paste in oil for 2 minutes. Stir frequently until a brown fond develops. Deglaze the pan with 2 cups water. Add chopped tomatoes and their juices and bring up to boil. Turn down burner to medium, cover pot, and allow to simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile in a separate 12″ skillet set over high burner. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and preheat until shimmering. Add zucchini and bell peppers, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute for 10 to 12 minutes until the vegetables become browned. Move vegetable towards sides on the skillet and cook pestata in the clearing for 1 minute. Mix everything together. Remove skillet from heat and add 1/4 cup of water, which you can use to deglaze the pan.
- After the vegetables in the Dutch oven are ready (the eggplant has completely broken down and potatoes are tender), remove from heat and add the vegetables from the skillet.
- Cover and allow the flavors to combine for 20 minutes before serving. Finally stir in shredded basil and adjust salt according to your taste.