The normal food of man is vegetable.
~ Charles Darwn
I love vegetables. When I was growing up, my father planted a garden the width of our large backyard and planted everything from asparagus and corn to rhubarb and zucchini. What we could not eat fresh, my mother canned or froze so that we would have vegetables during winter months.
When I was a child, my mom often made a vegetable stew of bounty from the garden. She included tomatoes, onions, peppers, and zucchini mostly, although she would add carrots, potatoes, corn, and other veggies that she had. I hated it because she overcooked it to a soggy mix, but my father liked it. It was the last thing he ate the night before he died. Mom never made it again.
I rediscovered Ciabotto Abruzzese after spending time in Italy. Made correctly, it is a delicious mix of fresh vegetables that you can eat as a main dish or as a side. While ciabotto has its roots in Abruzzo, there are variations all over Italy. The Pugliese cooks may add fish while Bolognese cooks use carrots and celery (a type of vegetarian bolognese sauce).
I’ve been craving fresh vegetables over the four months I’ve been on chemo. I’ve made a lot of ciabotto and used whatever I have in the house. I’ve even cheated a few times and added frozen vegetables I found at Trader Joe’s. You can use any of the following vegetables: carrots, potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, red or yellow peppers, green peppers, eggplant, onions, celery, asparagus, artichokes, peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, swiss chard, spinach, corn.
1 clove garlic
1/2 onion sliced
4 cups diced vegetables
3/4 c vegetable broth OR dry white wine (optional)
Basil (4-5 leaves)
Wash, pat dry, and dice the vegetables (I like them to be about 3/4-inch.). In a pan, heat the smashed garlic clove in the oil. Remove the clove before it starts to brown. Add the onion slices and cook until they are soft and translucent. (PLEASE NOTE: I do NOT use garlic or onions due to an allergy, but this is how my mom and grandmother cooked with garlic and onions.)
Add the diced vegetables (except tomatoes) to the pan, stir in 1/2 cup of olive oil, and slowly pour in the broth (or wine) if you are using it. Let it cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and pepper; cook about 10 more minutes. You will want the vegetables to be soft but not mushy, so keep an eye on the stew.
A couple of notes:
• I often make single-serving ciabotto since Mike isn’t wild about it (above).
• If you use tomatoes, quartered cherry tomatoes work best.
• Instead of using olive oil, I have browned pancetta (an Italian bacon) and cooked the vegetables in the pancetta and drippings. (This is common in the eastern Abruzzese province of Teramo.). (Photo above)
• If you use eggplant, dice it and then squeeze the cubes with paper towels to remove the bitter taste.
• Tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, carrots, and corn add a nice color to the ciabotto. The last time I made it (below), it was pretty monochromatic.
• If you don’t use the broth or wine, the ciabotto might be pretty dry. If you do use it, it can become mushy quickly, so keep an eye on it.
• I top mine with grated peccorino romano cheese.
I like ciabotto as a side, but I’ve also been known to add it to scrambled eggs (if I don’t cook it with the broth or wine) or top fresh pasta with it.