Thursday, September 6, 2007

Zucchini today, cloudy tomorrow

Colorful sweet bell and hot jalapeno peppers given to me by my neighbor who has been growing them on his balcony, along with tomatoes and sweet basil. We've spent the summer sharing stories of woe about our rebellious tomato plants, uncooperative weather and trading stories of other growing seasons and marinara recipes. The balcony proved too hot for his tomatoes so they spent most of the summer vacationing in the more temperate climate in his dad's garden. Mine are hanging on for dear life and are looking pretty ragged around the edges. The pathetic fruit remind of how we must have looked the first few days of junior high seventh grade when we transferred from the 'unique' private Catholic school experience of the 50's--sweaty, dorky and very, very confused!

Indian summer and the abundance of zucchini, peppers and tomatoes always urges me to make Ciambotta, a meatless southern Italian type of stew.

"Ciambotta is a member of that hard-to-define category of Italian foods known as minestre, generally somewhere between a thick soup and a stew. It is related to the French ratatouille, typically made with eggplant, onions and tomatoes, and the Sicilian caponata, made with more or less the same vegetables, plus celery and olives. In southern Italy, ciambotta (pronounced chahm-BOHT-tah) may also be spelled giambotta or cianfotta, depending on the region."
text borrowed from FoodDownUnder

My grandpa Vito made it and put it up in jars every summer until his passing at 81. My dad made his version and in all honesty it never was my favorite dish. Luckily tastes change and with advanced adulthood I find myself willing to give up just about anything to have a bowl of Jimmy's made with salt pork again (he made his last batch when he was 82). So, here's how I do it, sans the pork:

1 onion chopped, browned in ~ 3T olive oil
several cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, added to the onions, stirring often (don't burn the garlic!)
1 lg. can tomatoes, cut up (San Marzano plum are best if available)
2 lg. bell peppers but in quarters
2-3 zucchini (med.) cut in large rings
3 baking potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
salt & pepper
fresh sweet basil
Mix, cover and simmer gently until potatoes are very done. Keep adding water or broth so it doesn't cook down too much. Just before serving add several leaves of fresh basil. (My family used whole stalks of the herb and pulled it out before serving.)

I've been known to add a can of rinsed chickpeas at this point to make it a complete meal but it wasn't traditional, especially in light of my dad's romance with pork fat. My enduring memory of this meal was that I always seemed to get more zucchini than potatoes (which I really wanted) and ended up with a huge piece of basil that was missed, (which I didn't want). So, if you make this delicious stew, I wish you all the potatoes you want!

On the subject of free, hand grown produce, the pepper grower, his wife and big dog Tucker are moving today to Coon Rapids. Just last week my friend Caroline, next door, moved to another part of town--'just a short bicycle ride away' she assures me-- as well as Tatiana, husband and baby Taszia moved to Ann Arbor, and the sweet Erin, kindergarten teacher and owner of a little black Cocker Spaniel named J.J. got a teaching job up-state.

Soooo, I'm not amused by all of this moving away stuff. Knowing I have separation issues I deal with on a daily basis doesn't change the fact that I've become quite attached to some of my neighbors in this building. Audrey says its because I've never lived in an apartment building before...except I do remember in a galaxy far, far away there was the dorm, various apartments and houses, neighborhoods and the like. Saying goodbye is just not one of my favorite things. And it seems to me that the more congenial, fun or mentally stimulating people continually move on leaving the ordinary folk like me behind. Sigh.


Marianne said...

The Ciambotta sounds delicious, also sounds like something my Dad used to make...just throwing fresh produce in a pot and making a bit of a stew...YUM. Thanks for the recipe!
I know what you mean, I understand that not doing well with 'good-byes' or the 'seeing you when I get out that way' stuff.
and you 'ordinary'? not hardly. not at all.

Julie Marie said...

Did you ever bring back memories! Seventh grade: Leaving the security of a one-room (can you believe it) country school house for the "big" town high school where I would start 7th grade. Gulp!


Inland Empire Girl said...

The colors in this picture are beautiful together. I am going to try the recipe. In looking on your list on the side, I loved "The Year of Magical Thinking". I had never read anything by her and loved her style of writing.

Faery said...

Skywatcher and also cooks. Italian food is so delicios we call this kind of dish minestre. My dad is Italian he passed away four years ago and he loved good food and pets. I have a blog to post my recipes too.The Ciambotta look delicious.