Summer is when I temporarily become a part-time vegetarian.
There are so many tasty vegetables that are suddenly available at our Greenmarkets that it almost seems a crime to not take advantage of them while I can. It’s a wonderful profusion that challenges my creativity – how to design a meal that will satiate and satisfy while being nutritious, while at the same time, never having the same thing twice.
This is not to say that I stop eating meat at this time of year. No, I just eat less of it; it works for me. There are times when all I want for dinner is a plate of lovely vegetables and grains prepared in new and interesting ways. Occasionally, a piece of fish or chicken cooked as simply as possible provides a delicious foil.
That’s where stufato comes in. Stufato di verdure is a seasonal vegetable stew that is a specialty of northern Italy and is patterned similarly to ciambotta, a typical dish of southern Italian cuisine, which can be eaten as a contorno or antipasto depending on its ingredients and how it is cooked. It’s perfect for ‘clean out your vegetable crisper’ night. Simply warm a little olive oil, add your aromatics and sauté until golden brown. Your base can be a traditional mirepoix or battuto; the rest of your ingredients is only limited by whatever you have on hand. Add the rest of the vegetables, herbs and flavorings, taste for salt and pepper and cover. After an hour, the vegetables after transformed; they become lusciously soft and tender. A touch of extra-virgin olive oil or a scattering of minced herbs is all that’s needed to elevate it to something special. Serve with a baguette or soft roll, a glass of crisp white wine and you’re set.
The neat thing about stufato is that you can make it any day of the year and it will always be amazing.
1 clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Spanish onion, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 large zucchini, sliced
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed and left whole
3 pale stalks inner stalks celery, with leaves, finely chopped
1 tightly packed tablespoon basil leaves, julienned + more for garnish
1 large yellow or red sweet pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
5 plum tomatoes, coarsely diced OR 1 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
sea salt, to taste
freshly milled black pepper, to taste
extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish (optional)
Gently warm about 1/4 cup olive oil in a wide, deep Dutch oven over medium-high heat, along with the garlic. When the garlic begins to turn a pale gold, about 1 minute, add the onion and zucchini. Lower the heat to medium and sauté the onion and zucchini until they become golden brown, stirring frequently. This will take some time, about 10 minutes.
Add the green beans, celery, celery leaves, basil, sweet pepper and tomatoes. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for about an hour or until the vegetables are extremely tender.
If the stew seems too liquid, uncover and raise the heat to medium-high during the last few minutes of cooking to reduce and concentrate flavors. When the stufato is done, taste for salt and pepper. Ladle stew into bowls, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, if using and a little basil. Serve at once.
Time: About 90 minutes, including prep.
This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging #338, which is currently hosted by Cristina of La Cucina di Cristina and organized by Haalo of Cook (almost) Anything at Least Once. Weekend Herb Blogging is a weekly foodblogging event that was originally begun by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.