Labor Day has come and gone but there are still nearly three weeks left before fall officially begins, so we’re not ready to say goodbye to summer—and neither are our local farmers! Over the summer months, our Sunday routine comes to hinge on our trips to the farmers’ market, and these days, that includes heading home with a haul of gorgeous tomatoes, stone fruits, squash, eggplants, and anything else that looks especially plump, juicy, or colorful. We’re getting as much of it as we can, while we can. Our first stop in the DC area (after our the necessary coffee), is always the Bending Bridge Farm stand, where we—and so many others—can unfailingly rely on Cameron and Audrey’s organic produce to be fresh and delicious. You know you’ve found a great farm stand when you don’t just get something you need, you get something that surprises, too.
Because of this, we often go with no plan in mind, preferring to be inspired by what’s been recently harvested. At the market, we found squash—golden, green, and yellow—red potatoes, light purple eggplants and yellow tomatoes, lemon cucumbers and perfect red cherries, fiery-colored peaches and one sweet smelling cantaloupe. Before we were done, we picked up some cheese and a crusty loaf of bread down a few stands, and headed home.
With everything turned out on our counters, our kitchen was unmistakably flooded with summer. The day was so hot that we didn’t feel like pasta—heresy, we know, since a Sunday without pasta in Lou’s family is no Sunday at all. But all this day and these girls wanted was a bowl of late summer vegetables. So we started washing and chopping, and ended up with this fantastic ciambotta, or our take on a Southern Italian vegetable stew. But don’t let the word “stew” put you off on a warm day! This dish is perfect for early September and is just as delicious at room temperature as it is hot. This meal was the start we needed to our weekend afternoon: the sun was shining, we were cooking, and when all was done, with our plates in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, we hit the yard where we spent every last minute…until dinner.
Serve with some cheese and a good loaf of bread and call it a day—and a great one, at that.
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Late Summer Ciambotta
serves 4 as a main dish
As with all mixed vegetable soups and stews, you can add any vegetables you like. Just try to keep quantities balanced. Also keep in mind that eggplant will absorb as much oil as you give it, so though you may be tempted to add more oil, you may not actually need to. Just stir to keep it from sticking. If some does stick to the pan, don’t worry—the situation will fix itself when you add the other vegetables and strained tomatoes. However, after the eggplant finishes cooking, the onions might appreciate a little more olive oil for their turn in the pan.
– 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
– 2 large summer squashes, green or yellow or golden (whichever you prefer or can find)
– 2 small eggplants
– 1 large onion
– 3 cloves of garlic
– 5 small red potatoes
– 2 cups passata or strained tomatoes
– 1 cup water
– 1 tsp dried oregano
– 1 10-15 oz can/box chickpeas
– Red chili flakes
– Salt, black pepper
– A good handful of fresh basil
* Cut the eggplant and onion into ½ inch dice, but but keep them separate.
* Place your sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add 2 tbs oil.
* When your oil is hot, add the eggplant. Stir until softened and just starting to brown.
* Push the eggplant to one side of the pan.
* Add the onion, a good pinch of salt, red pepper flakes to taste, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir and sauté until soft.
* While the onion is cooking, cut the potatoes and squash also into ½ inch dice—keep them separate, too.
* Mince the garlic.
* Make a space in the center of the pan, add the garlic, and cook until fragrant. Mix.
* When the onion is translucent, add the potatoes, stir, and cook for a minute or two.
* Add the squash, passata, water, and oregano. Stir to mix.
* Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft but retain their texture. If it seems too thick, add a bit more water.
* Mix in the chickpeas and cook until heated through.
* Taste for seasoning.
* Tear the basil and stir in just before serving.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.