My main failing as a vegetarian is that I’ve never been able to abide eggplant. But recently I’ve eaten it a few times without minding it so much. I ate a very tasty tiny roasted eggplant in Tokyo, and when Derek and I went to Copenhagen recently a friend of his invited us for dinner and served not one but two dishes with eggplant in them. I ate both and didn’t even really mind the eggplant! So I decided to be brave recently and added a small eggplant to a lasagne I was making. I used Cook’s Illustrated suggested cooking method of dicing it, sprinkling it with salt, placing it on a plate with coffee filters (except I didn’t have any so used a paper towel) and microwaving it until it’s slightly shriveled and dried out. I didn’t even notice it in the lasagne, so I decided to push the limits a bit more and try this Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Ciambotta, which they say is an Italian ratatouille-like stew. Ingredients:
- 12 ounces eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 tsp. salt
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped (mine was about 10.5 oz)
- 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons 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), seeded and 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
- Toss eggplant with 1½ teaspoons salt in bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over coffee filters. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, 8 to 12 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add eggplant, onion, and potatoes; cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant browns and surface of potatoes becomes translucent, about 2 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of pot; add 1 tablespoon oil and tomato paste to clearing. Cook paste, stirring frequently, until brown fond develops on bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Add 2 cups water and chopped tomatoes and juice, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and gently simmer until eggplant is completely broken down and potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until very hot. Add zucchini, bell peppers, and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are browned and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer vegetables to bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup water to skillet off heat, scraping up browned bits.
- Remove pot from heat and stir reserved vegetables and water from skillet into vegetables in Dutch oven. Cover pot and let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Stir in basil and season with salt to taste; serve.
I was a bit short on bell peppers—I only had one large one, which yielded about 7.5 ounces chopped. So I used slightly more zucchini, about 1 pound 3 ounces. I couldn’t find russet potatoes so used the waxier potatoes that I had on hand. I was also short on basil. I only had about 1 ounce. Finally, the recipe also calls for a pestata, a pesto-like sauce made with oregano and basil, but I didn’t have the time to make this component. Still, I liked the recipe. When I first tasted it I thought—wow, that hits the spot. It was very flavorful and satisfying, and pretty low calorie despite all the olive oil. Again, I didn’t notice the eggplant at all. The only problem was that the potatoes took much longer to cook than the recipe says, probably because they were waxy not Russet potatoes. I think all the acid from the tomatoes kept the potatoes from softening.
The recipe calls for a lot of salt. I used kosher salt and it didn’t end up tasting particularly salty, but per calorie it actually has a lot of salt.
Oddly, Derek didn’t like this recipe at all. He had one bowl when I made it and then showed absolutely no interest in eating it again. So I polished off the pot myself, over the week. I never got sick of it but it never tasted quite as good as it did that first night. Maybe I was just really hungry. I’ll definitely try it again sometime when I have a bunch of summer veggies to get rid of. Maybe if I make the pestata next time Derek will like the recipe more. But if I make the pestata I’ll probably cut down the oil in the recipe.