Like its French sibling, ciambotta starts out with a slew of watery vegetables. But the right steps create a stew that’s hearty, more concentrated, and deeply satisfying.
Most recipes result in a muddy-tasting, mushy stew that lacks depth.
We wanted tender-firm vegetables sunken into a thick, luxurious sauce, with elements that boasted rich, complex flavor.
Our first task was concentrating the flavor of each vegetable. Roasting the vegetables took too long, so we limited ourselves to the stovetop. Salting and microwaving the eggplant before sautéing it limited its ability to absorb oil, but this didn’t prevent it from getting mushy. We decided to embrace this mushiness: It transformed our thin broth into a full-bodied, silky sauce. We did, however, find a way to keep our peppers and zucchini crisp-tender. The key was getting them out of the high-sided Dutch oven and into their own skillet, where we sautéed them before adding them back into the pot. The short sides of the sauté pan allowed the vegetables’ liquid to evaporate, preserving their firm-tender quality.
As for the potatoes, we opted for delicate russets. Though these floury spuds typically crumble apart when cooked, the acid from the tomatoes in our broth ensured that they held their shape just enough but still absorbed some of the savory broth.
For an additional burst of flavor, we incorporated a pestata, a pesto-like garnish of pulverized herbs, garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes. And as a finishing touch, we stirred loads of shredded fresh basil into the stew just before serving.