Italian vegetable stew known as ciambotta (or giambotta) is a wonderful way to celebrate summer produce in a hearty vegetarian meal that can be customized based on what you have on hand. Serve it as is, add beans, crusty bread, even some pancetta or ground meat, it’s the very definition of flexible!
Just by saying the word in my head I can hear my grandma’s voice and envision her in the raised bed garden at my grandparents house we visited every Sunday for dinner as kids.
Ciambotta, you see, is the Italian answer for an abundance of summer vegetables.
And when your grandma’s garden was the size of a small barn and your mom used a decent chunk of our half acre lot in our first house for hers, come August there was always an abundance of summer produce.
WHAT IS CIAMBOTTA?
Ciambotta, simply put, is an Italian vegetable stew. Some call it Italian ratatouille.
Wikipedia will tell you it has its roots in Southern Italy from Naples all the way south to Sicily where it’s also spelled “giambotta”. This area is also where Utica greens featuring escarole originated.
This easy ciambotta recipe uses all the classic vegetables: tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, onions and peppers.
Fresh basil and garlic are used as the flavoring ingredients and extra virgin olive oil is always at the core of the recipe.
Texturally, it lives somewhere in the middle ground of a stew and a thick soup. Usually, this depends on the type of tomatoes being used.
When using fresh chopped tomatoes, it errs on the side of stew. When using canned crushed tomatoes, you’ll get more of a thick soup.
Unlike some classics with stringent recipe specifics, ciambotta is flexible to what you have on hand and what’s ripe. It is after all, Italian. An easy-going dish for an easy-going people.
INGREDIENTS TO MAKE SICILIAN CIAMBOTTA
True to the season, every single ingredient in this ciambotta recipe is in-season and ripe in late summer.
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
Typically, a soft white potato like Yukon golds are used. The onion can be yellow or red depending on preference.
Italian eggplant is preferred if you can find it and plum tomatoes are my favorite for this dish when using fresh tomatoes.
Diced canned tomatoes can also be used in a pinch or out of season.
For the bell peppers, any color will do. I happened to have some gorgeously unique purple peppers when making the stew this time.
An Italian long pepper can also be used in place of one of the bell peppers for some heat if preferred.
I also like adding a combination of parsley and basil but basil alone is what’s more commonly used.
Again, feel free to use what you have on hand. Ciambotta, like this Mexican vegetable soup recipe, doesn’t discriminate when it comes to vegetables!
While not Italian, you could even throw in okra! My Italian relatives would probably disapprove but it has the same seasonal relevance and if you didn’t want to make stewed okra with tomatoes, I say why not!?
HOW TO MAKE THIS CIAMBOTTA RECIPE
Start by placing the olive oil (use a good quality cold pressed extra virgin olive oil for this!) in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
Once it’s hot, add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until starting to soften.
Add the garlic and cook another minute until fragrant.
Add potatoes and eggplant. Give everything a good stir and cook for 5 minutes.
Next add the tomatoes, zucchini and peppers. Toss to combine all the ingredients then cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes. Stir the stew occasionally while cooking.
Remove the lid, add the basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for 5 more minutes to reduce some of the liquid.
Turn off heat and enjoy!
HOW TO SERVE GIAMBOTTA
Part of the appeal to giambotta is the flexibility in how to serve and enjoy the dish. It can be served as a classic vegetarian meal by itself (it’s sure as heck hearty and filling enough for it!).
Many like to enjoy it with some crusty bread (some sourdough, a slice of cheesy zucchini bread or even vegan gluten free cornbread would be delicious) and call it a day. Other times, it’s served over rice, polenta or even pasta.
Personally, I love to add white beans like cannellini beans to ciambotta making it similar in nature to escarole soup.
The beans add a lovely creamy texture to the vegetables, bring even more fiber to the dish and round it out with some plant-based protein.
A shake of red pepper flakes on top of the plated dish is great for the spice lovers too!
I’ve also seen ciambotta made with pancetta, bacon and even sometimes a bit of ground sausage or pork (you’d cook it with the onions in the first step).
This approach really turns it into a hearty and filling meal. And while I have added pancetta before, it’s maybe the only time in my life I can say I think I prefer something without bacon.
Ciambotta is really meant to let the vegetables shine. Bacon sort of overtakes the freshness of the summer vegetables with its flavor profile.
It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong but it sort of does a disservice to the dish in my opinion.
Alternatively, ciambotta can be served as a side dish to a larger meal like chicken sorrentino. It’s great like this as well since you’re getting so many different vegetables all in one side dish along with a bit of starch from the potatoes.
TIPS FOR THE BEST TASTING CIAMBOTTA
- Use quality olive oil – at the risk of sounding like Ina, a good quality cold pressed, extra virgin organic single source olive oil is really what you want to source for this recipe.
- Use fresh vegetables – while ciambotta can be made with canned tomatoes, it’s really a dish that was created out of necessity to use fresh produce and that’s what should be used for the freshest, best tasting outcome.
- Chop the vegetables uniformly – I’m the first to admit to being a lazy chopper but this is a dish where it definitely helps to put some effort into the chopping preparation. Similar sizes on the chop helps everything cook more evenly.
- Season at the end of cooking – the recipe directions are in the order they are for a reason. Don’t be tempted to add the fresh herbs earlier in the cooking process as they’ll lose their brightness in the final dish.
The abundance of different spellings for the dish (ciambrotta, giambotta, ciabotta to name just a few) in all the different regions that enjoy it is a testament to this lovely Italian stew’s popularity.
It’s peasant food at its core and sometimes that’s the best kind of food.
Simple and unadorned yet fresh, comforting and satisfying.
It’s a dish that comes out a little differently each time its made which only increases its charm rather than detracts from it.
One thing’s a constant though, its delicious nostalgia with each and every bite.
MORE RECIPES TO USE SUMMER PRODUCE:
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, chopped
- 1 medium eggplant, chopped
- 5 medium plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 medium zucchini, chopped
- 2 bell peppers, any color, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil and parsley
- Add olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven and place over medium heat.
- Once hot, add the onions and cook for 5 minutes until starting to soften.
- Add the garlic and cook an additional minute until fragrant.
- Add the potatoes and eggplant, stir to toss with the onions and garlic and let cook for another 5 minutes.
- Add chopped tomatoes, zucchini and bell peppers, toss to combine, cover with a lid and let cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove lid, season to taste with salt and pepper, add the basil and parsley and cook an additional 5 minutes.
- Serve as desired with crusty bread, over rice, with added white beans, etc.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.