In the kitchens of a trendy Madrid dinner theater called Florida Retiro, chef Joaquin Felipe introduced us to pisto manchego, a colorful combination of sautéed summer vegetables that is Spain’s answer to French ratatouille.
The fresh taste of the vegetables had come through — finely chopped bell peppers, tomato, onion, eggplant and zucchini, each ingredient still intact. The fruitiness of good olive oil acted as a binder without producing a greasy porridge. And the buttery, grassy flavor of curls of manchego cheese elevated this dish above a mere side. Simply delicious.
For the version in our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” we suggest topping it with a poached or fried egg for a quick but tasty main course.
The flavorful tomato juices make crusty bread almost obligatory, but the dish also would pair wonderfully with rice or a baked potato. We liked the effect of using one red and one yellow bell pepper, but you could use just one color. Just don’t use the seedy core of the zucchini, as it turns soft and mushy with cooking.
The result was a lesson in contradictions. Simple yet trendy. Oil-infused, not oily. Delicate yet basic. What a good pisto manchego should be.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
Two 8-ounce Chinese or Japanese eggplants, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 medium bell peppers (see note), stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
14-ounce can diced tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 ounces manchego cheese, shaved
Trim off the ends of the zucchini, then slice lengthwise into planks, leaving behind and discarding the seedy core. Cut the zucchini planks into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. In a medium bowl, toss the eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 6 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant in an even layer and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir, cover and reduce to medium. Cook, stirring, until tender when pierced with a fork but not falling apart, another 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel–lined medium bowl and set aside.
To the same pot, add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil and heat over medium-high until shimmering. Add the zucchini in an even layer and cook undisturbed until well-browned, about 4 minutes. Stir and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides and tender when pierced with a fork, another 1 to 2 minutes. Using the slotted spoon, transfer to the bowl with the eggplant.
To the same pot, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat over medium-high until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the bell peppers, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook, stirring, until the peppers soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin and oregano, then cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice, then cover and simmer over medium until the flavors have melded, 5 to 7 minutes.
Reduce to low and stir in the eggplant-zucchini mixture. Cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the parsley, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter and top with the manchego.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap
Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press