Cianfotta (Summer Vegetable Stew)

FrankUncategorized18 Comments

Cianfotta

Cianfotta, also known as ciambotta, is a summer vegetable stew made throughout Southern Italy. Indeed, it belongs to a whole family of Mediterranean vegetable stews, the most famous of which is perhaps ratatouille from southern France.

The version we’re featuring today comes from Neapolitan cookery, and more specifically from Jeanne Caròla Francesconi’s classic La cucina napoletana. Her recipe for cianfotta, like most, is a simple affair featuring a colorful medley of summer’s bounty: eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes, of course, plus onions for savor and potatoes—admittedly not a particularly summery veg but invariably a part of the dish—for a bit of heft. You can round out the dish with olive and capers, or perhaps a pinch of hot pepper if you like things spicy.

Served either slightly warm or at room temperature, cianfotta makes for a tasty make-ahead side for grilled meats like last week’s pork chops or, served with some good crusty bread, a light supper on its own.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants, cut into large dice
  • 2-3 large bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1-2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3-4 tomatoes, cut into large dice
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 200 ml (3/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil (or more)

Optional:

  • A fresh red chili pepper, cut into slices, or a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • A handful of Gaeta olives
  • 1-2 Tbs of capers, rinsed

Directions

Cut the eggplant into large dice (about 2cm or 3/4 inch) and toss with a good pinch of salt. Set in a colander, weighed down with a plate, to drain for about an hour.

In a pot large enough to hold all the vegetables comfortably, heat the oil over gentle heat, then add the peppers. Sauté until the peppers are tender, taking care not to burn or brown them. Season them lightly as you go. Remove them with a skimmer or slotted spoon, leaving as much oil behind as you can manage.

Add the chopped onion (and the chili pepper if using) to the remaining olive oil, and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Season with a pinch of salt as you go. Add the minced garlic and let that sauté for a few moments.

Add the eggplant, potato and tomato, along wit the chopped parsley. Mix once, then set the heat to low and cover. Simmer the vegetables until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Check on them from time to time, stirring once or twice and adding a spoonful of water if needed to prevent scorching.

When the vegetables are tender, uncover the pot. The stew should be moist but not runny. Raise the heat if needed to boil off any excess liquid. Then add the sautéed peppers and the basil, along with the olives and capers if using, mixing them well but very gingerly into the stew. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Simmer for a minute or two more, then turn off the heat.

Serve your cianfotta slightly warm or at room temperature.

Cianfotta

Notes on Cianfotta

Simple as this recipe is, there are a few tips to keep in mind. First off, to get the right results, you’ll need to be very generous with the oil. You may have noticed this is one of the very few recipes on this blog where I’ve specified the amount of oil. And that’s not by coincidence. The abundant oil is there to prevent scorching, to ensure the eggplant is cooked through (for some reason, without oil eggplant never seems to get tender) and to make sure there’s proper transfer of flavors among the different ingredients.

You do want all the vegetables in your cianfotta to be perfectly tender, even soft, but you also want to avoid the veg, especially the eggplant, turning to mush. So cut them into rather larger pieces than you might otherwise, and while they simmer, stir them only occasionally to stop them scorching the bottom of the pot and as gingerly as you can manage, preferably with a spatula. And season only at the end, as salt encourages softening. (If you’re really fastidious, or pignolo as the Italians say, you can get around this problem altogether by sautéing each vegetable separately until each is done just right, then mix them together for a  brief final simmer.)

The vegetables tend to give off liquid as they cook, but sometimes they don’t so much, so you may actually need to add a few drops of water. But mostly you get the opposite, and you’ll need to turn up the heat, with the pot uncovered, to cook off excess liquid.

Variations in ingredients

As you might imagine, there are many variations on this basic recipe for cianfotta. Perhaps most common is adding zucchini to the mix, not surprising since this is a summer vegetable dish. In fact, it surprises me that zucchini isn’t part of the “core” recipe. My guess is that many people think zucchini is just too delicate, both in flavor and texture, for this fairly bold dish?

Besides zucchini, other summer vegetables such as zucca lunga or cuccuzza can make it into a cianfotta. Celery and/or carrot are sometimes added to sauté along with the onion. And not all versions of cianfotta are fully vegan/vegetarian. In Naples, bits of boiled beef can be added, in Basilicata they add browned sausage and hard boiled egg, while in Puglia fish can feature.

Then there’s the tomato. Some recipes for cianfotta, like Francesconi’s, add just a bit. Others, including the version they make in Sorrento, have no tomato at all. In yet others, including a Calabrian variation Francesconi mentions, there’s lots of tomato. In fact, she tells you to make a tomato sauce, then add potatoes, eggplant and peppers to simmer for a few minutes with wine vinegar, basil leaves and parsley.

Variations in method

Besides different ingredients, there are variations in the method as well. Since different vegetables can take longer or shorter to reach tenderness, some recipes have you cook each vegetable separately before simmering them together. Other recipes provide a less time-consuming alternative method, where you add the vegetables in a particular order, starting with the ones that taking longer to cook to avoid overcooking.  Funnily enough, though, the exact order varies from recipe to recipe… The tomato is one example. In some recipes you add it right after the onion. In others you add it last. And in yet others you add it halfway through cooking.

Finally, you can also make cianfotta in the oven if you like. To start, you layer onion, tomatoes and potatoes at the bottom of a baking dish. Then you toss the rest of the veggies with oil, minced garlic and salt and layer them on top. Bake for 30-40 minutes in a hot (200C/400F) oven and you’re good to go.

Cianfotta

Cook Time1 hr
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: summer, vegan, vegetable
Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants cut into large dice
  • 2-3 large bell peppers cut into strips
  • 1 large onion roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1-2 large potatoes peeled and diced
  • 3-4 tomatoes cut into large dice
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 200 ml (3/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil or more

Instructions

  • Cut the eggplant into large dice (about 2cm or 3/4 inch) and toss with a good pinch of salt. Set in a colander, weighed down with a plate, to drain for about an hour.
    In a pot large enough to hold all the vegetables comfortably, heat the oil over gentle heat, then add the peppers. Sauté until the peppers are tender, taking care not to burn or brown them. Season them lightly as you go. Remove them with a skimmer or slotted spoon, leaving as much oil behind as you can manage.
    Add the chopped onion (and the chili pepper if using) to the remaining olive, and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Season with a pinch of salt as you go. Add the minced garlic and let that saute for a few moments.
    Add the eggplant, potato and tomato, along wit the chopped parsley. Mix once, then set the heat to low and cover. Simmer the vegetables until tender, about 20-30 minutes. Check on them from time to time, stirring once or twice and adding a spoonful of water if needed to prevent scorching.
    When the vegetables are tender, uncover the pot. The stew should be moist but not runny. Raise the heat if needed to boil off any excess liquid. Then add the sautéed peppers and the basil, along with the olives and capers if using, mixing them well but very gingerly into the stew. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Simmer for a minute or two more, then turn off the heat.
    Serve your cianfotta slightly warm or at room temperature.

 

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18 Comments on “Cianfotta (Summer Vegetable Stew)”

  1. I’d love this and although we make something similar, this is definitely more special. I would absolutely love the spicy version! I just decided out 2 days ago that I will be heading back to Naples next month! I cannot tell you how over the moon I am. Not eating for 2 weeks before I leave, haha!

  2. I am SOOOOO happy to have found this recipe! Today, I discovered my eggplant had gone mostly rotten. (Alas, I went away for two days & forgot to put it in the fridge. My fault!) Knowing the “cucina povere” tradition, I cut off all the bad bits from the eggplant & added in a massive yellow summer squash from a friend’s garden. I had some tomatoes that were also going a bit soft (yeah, I left these out as well) but used the French method of peeling the tomatoes and they worked. I had two lovely bunches of spring onion/scallion and threw them in as well, saving the green stalks in the fridge to use in quesadillas. Taking a page from Jewish cooking, I gave the veggies more flavor by sautéing them in some chicken schmaltz I render from roasted chicken thighs at home. In a household of two, I never can do a whole chicken really, but find using the thighs with bone add delightful flavor compared to the ever boring boneless breasts. This will be smashing tonight with an added can of beans, and maybe served with a nice pan-fried spicy Italian sausage on the side!

    1. It all sounds delicious, Sebastian. I love the fact that you’re making the most of your odds and ends and not throwing anything away unnecessarily.Bravo!

  3. Dear Frank, I just discovered your blog and want to congratulate. I was looking for some Italian recipes in English to share with my non-italian friends. Your blog is amazing, truly genuine Italian dishes, everyone with variations and cultural insights. As for this one, I’m from Abruzzo and I really love ‘ciambotta’. Grazie mille!

  4. Like all of ypur recipes, this one had me salivating even at the ungodly hour that I am reading your beautiful blog. I love the notes and the discussion of the variations. Definitely a delicious summer side dish.

  5. I never think of potatoes as being summery either. But we’ve been overwhelmed with them this year from our 2 CSAs. That’s a lovely looking dish, which I’d never heard of.

    1. me neither, but then last week I had wonderful potatoes straight from a friend allotment— no bigger than a golf ball— wonderfull.. I guess there are few crops …??

  6. Hello Frank I grew up with this dish made by my Grandmother Stellina. She called it Cianbotta being she was born in Puglia a very popular dish among Italian families. GREAT SUMMER DISH 👍
    Thanks for the memories 😋

  7. Interesting. My copy of Larousse Gastronomique tells me that, far from being a traditional French dish, ratatouille isn’t really found at all until the late C19 and a printed recipe not until the 1930s, it’s thought to be one of the ‘one pot’ dishes that entered French cuisine via the Foreign Legion (who are traditionally based in Provence and elsewhere in the South), which were made up of whatever ingredients could be found at any one time, thrown in a pot and cooked together (a similar legend exists for Chicken Marengo of course) although, as you say, it appears to be part of a whole family of like dishes found all round the Mediterranean littoral so it may well be much older than that.

    I cooked one just yesterday but, being as I live in Nice for half the year, I followed the Niçoise method even though I’m currently in the UK, some parts of which might be useful here. Nice was, after all, part of Italy until 1860. First off, the various components are cooked separately and only combined towards the end ‘to preserve the individual flavours’ according to Joël Robuchon (who, of course, must be right). So first off I made a tomato sauce by combining tinned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and several fresh tomatoes, if I had been in Nice – or anywhere else in the Med – I would have microwaved chopped fresh tomatoes only with garlic (10 minutes covered on high), put them through a veg mill and then simmered with a slug of olive oil. I then cooked the following separately in this succession: sliced onions, sliced courgettes aka zucchini (c. 1cm rounds), halved sliced peppers (one red, one green) and finally the aubergine (eggplant) topped, cut in half lengthways then cut into similar size slices to the courgettes. I used a large non-stick wok for this as I’ve found it’s important with this method to stir fry the veg quickly and only half cook them (they should still have some crunch), they will continue to cook after being taken out of the pan and put to the side and it stops them overcooking (one of the curses of Nice tourist menus is sludgy overcooked ratatouille). Then finally they are all returned to the pan together, the tomato sauce poured over them and the mix warmed through for five minutes or so with basil etc and the seasoning corrected (don’t add salt until right at the end). It doesn’t add much to the prep/cooking time as you put the tomato sauce on to cook, then do the veg, chopping the next one while the current one is frying. I think you get a much better dish as a result.

    Two things about the aubergines, both of which I get from Harold McGee: firstly, modern cultivars do not need salting ‘to remove bitterness’, what salting actually does is begin the process of breakdown of the cell walls inside the vegetable which means that it needs far less oil to cook as it will absorb much less. Secondly, a far more effective way of doing this is to microwave the sliced aubergine (two minutes on full 850 watts is enough) spread out on a plate. You will notice the difference almost straight away, when put in the pan the aubergine will absorb oil at first but then expel it back into the pan soon after and will cook much more quickly. If this leaves you with less olive oil than you prefer you can always add more. If you want tomato chunks rather than sauce, then cook these last and add the veg to them. I don’t add chilli to this when cooking but I do like chilli sauce on the side when I eat it.

    1. Ian what a great contribution. does Larousse say where the recipe appears first ?JB Reboul’s La Cusiniere Provencale??
      I have eaten and seen so many versions that I suspect there is no right or wrong: I myself prefer the method u describe here, but I let the vegetables stewed in the tom sauce for longer. always best eaten the following day.

    2. Separate cooking of the vegetables does give a finer result, I agree, and I do it myself when I’m feeling sufficiently energetic—which admittedly isn’t that often. Interesting, though, that most Italian recipes for ciafotta/ciambotta don’t go that route. It may be that melding the flavors of the various vegetables is thought to be preferable to maintaining their individuality? I thought it was interesting, too, that Francesconi cooks the peppers (and only the peppers) separately. She’s doesn’t explain why. My guess is that the peppers are strongly flavored and would overwhelm the other veg, but that’s only a guess.

      I’ll have to try the microwave method for prepping eggplant. If it works for me, I’ll have found a reason to use that device beyond reheating leftovers!

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