As soon as I took a bite of this vegetable stew at my friend Giulia’s house, I knew I wanted to share the recipe with you.
Ciabotto (cha-bot-toh), as it is called in Abruzzo, is the essence of summer, a savory sauté of zucchini, eggplant, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes, cooked in wine and a generous amount of olive oil. Its flavor is rich and enveloping, warm sunlight implied in every bite. To me, it exemplifies the Italian spirit of generosity and hospitality.
You might know, especially if you follow my Instagram feed, where I post regularly, that I spent most of this month in Italy, hopscotching my way from the Langhe (Piemonte), in the north, to the Cilento (Campania), in the south, while researching my current book project. After sleeping in a different bed every night or two ~ some nicer than others (causing me to lose what little faith I had in TripAdvisor) ~ I had the desire to be among friends.
So near the end of the trip I went to stay with Giulia, who operates a country house on a hilltop near Manoppello, in Abruzzo. Casale Centurione is somewhere between a B & B and an agriturismo, with a restaurant and a handful of clean, simply furnished rooms in a restored farmhouse. The property, which Giulia and her husband, Gian Luca, share with his parents, is planted with olive trees, a vineyard, fruit trees of every sort ~ apple, apricot, cherry, peach, pear, and so on ~ and a prodigious vegetable garden that furnishes much of what is served at the restaurant.
Early one morning we harvested a basketful of vegetables and at lunchtime Giulia showed me how to make ciabotto. It’s simple, as long as you don’t undercook or overcook the vegetables. Garlic and a little onion are sautéed in olive oil, then the rest of the vegetables, diced, are added to the pan, along with wine and more oil, and left to cook over a moderate flame until tender. All the flavors mingle into a delicious savory sauce, perfect for scooping up with bread.
Ciabotto is just one name for this humble and nourishing vegetable dish, a less fussy version of ratatouille and a summer staple throughout central and southern Italy. According to this post (in Italian), the name derives from an archaic French word, “chabrot,” meaning a “mix” (I haven’t verified this ~ if you are proficient in French and know this to be true Id’ love confirmation). Interestingly, the word “ciabotto,” in Abruzzese dialect, means “chubby,” and in a certain sense it describes the dish well, for the stew is made from vegetables that are plentiful in an Italian summer garden, and it can be employed as a main dish, a side, or a condiment. It is, in a word, generous.
The variations are many. In Lazio, the region that borders Abruzzo on the west, it is known as ‘cianfotta’ and features spring vegetables such as peas, favas, and artichokes. There are numerous iterations to the south in Campania, including one with beans and chard and another with olives and oregano. In parts of Puglia, ‘ciambotta’ refers to a fish stew with peppers and tomatoes. Here’s a Tuscan version posted over on Food 52 by blogger Emiko Davies.
Even within Abruzzo’s own borders there are numerous renditions. Some 30 miles away from Manopello, in Navelli, my friend Francesca introduced me to a local version know as “la iotta.” It is, essentially, the same vegetable stew but rather than sautéed it is baked in the oven.
This brings up the wonderful versatility of ciabotto. At Giulia’s we enjoyed it with fresh buffalo mozzarella that I had picked up in Campania. The next day, leftovers were cleverly turned into a pizza topping. Giulia’s MIL, herself a wonderful cook, said she often makes ciabotto, minus the potatoes, to toss with pasta. You could certainly stir it into risotto or mix it with cooked farro.
I made a big batch the day after I got home, using eggplant, zucchini and yellow summer squash, cherry tomatoes, and purple potatoes from the farmers’ market. I served it as a side to grilled chicken and sausages. A couple of nights later I turned the leftovers into a gratin, which I topped with seasoned bread crumbs and baked in the oven until golden.
There you have it: Ciabotto, Italian generosity in a single dish.
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Abruzzo is calling you! Speaking of Italian generosity, nowhere is this trait more prevalent than among the people of Abruzzo. Join us this September for a unique culinary tour of this spectacular and unspoiled region of Italy. Only two spots left.
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This simple vegetable stew comprises all the flavors of an Italian summer ~ zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, and basil. Serve it as a side dish, spoon it onto pizza as a topping, or toss with pasta.
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 cup diced celery, plus a handful of leaves if you have them
- 1 small peperoncino (chile pepper), minced
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 3 to 4 zucchini and/or summer squash, diced
- 2 young eggplants, diced (if using older, dice them, sprinkle with salt, and let sit for an hour, then squeeze out the bitter juices and pat dry)
- 2 large red peppers, diced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- Fine sea salt
- A handful fresh basil leaves, torn
Put the garlic and about 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large high-sided skillet or sauté pan and set over medium heat. Press the garlic into the oil when it begins to sizzle to extract its flavor but don't allow it to brown. At this point you can remove it or leave it in (I leave it in). Stir in the onion, celery, and peperoncino, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add the potato and toss to coat it with the oil. Cook for 5 minutes, until the potato begins to soften.
Stir in the zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. Raise the heat to medium-high and stir in the wine. Let it bubble briefly, then reduce the heat to medium. Drizzle in more oil, somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup. Don't be too reserved; the oil contributes much to the stew's silky texture and rich sauce. Season the stew with a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderate heat, turning every so often, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender but still hold their shape. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil.
Serve warm or at room temperature (the more it sits, the better it gets). Ciabotto goes well with almost anything ~ fresh mozzarella, grilled chicken or fish, steak, lamb chops, sausages, you name it.