Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Very few activities are more fulfilling in the summer than visiting farmers markets. The glorious colors of fruit and vegetables ripened under the sun is a feast for the eyes. And what a treat it is savoring the real flavor of fresh strawberries, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.

It occurred to me this would be a great month to feature a vegetable medley using the vegetables that will be at their peak in August - colorful tomatoes and bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant, all seasoned with onions and garlic and favorite herbs. For this month’s blog I got my inspiration from a recipe I found in a book called Las Recetas Secretas de las Monjas (The Secret Recipes of the Nuns), published in Buenos Aires in 2003.

Traditionally the convents in Spain tended small gardens, where they grew vegetables for their daily consumption. The nuns developed some wonderful dishes after the vegetables from the Americas became part of their gardens. When they immigrated to the Americas, these specialties became part of our repertoire. A vegetable medley, known as pisto, was one of those creations that changed with the seasons; the ingredients that went into the pisto depended on what the garden had to offer.

PISTO MANCHEGO (Vegetable Medley from La Mancha)

When I was in Buenos Aires a couple of years ago I was invited to have lunch in a Spanish restaurant. The first tapa my Uruguayan friend Yvonne ordered was pisto, which I have found in tapas restaurants in Spain and other parts of the world. The pistos adapt to the seasons and can be served either hot or cold. They also can be served as appetizers or main courses. Many cooks add some boiled potatoes and boiled eggs or bacon, ham or canned tuna to round out the dish for a delightful summer meal. In the winter it is served hot as a side dish.

2 tablespoons olive oil, or more
1 large Spanish onion, halved and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Chinese eggplant (4 to 6-ounces), optional
1 each small green, red and orange Bell pepper, cut into 1/2-in dice (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups peeled and cubed ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth made with 1 teaspoon chicken base, granules or paste
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick (about 2 cups)

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
Thin wedges Manchego cheese or crumbled Feta cheese

1. If using eggplant, trim, peel, quarter lengthwise and slice ½-inch thick across. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt. Let it stand for 30 minutes, rinse with cold water and drain.
2. In a large casserole or 11-inch frying pan heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until transparent, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for a few seconds. If mixture is too dry add a little more oil, then add optional eggplant cook stirring well so oil coats the pieces; cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add paprika, flour salt and pepper and stir well; add peppers, tomatoes and chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in zucchini, reduce to the heat and simmer covered until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Vegetables should be cooked but still be crispy and there should be a little sauce to coat them. If too dry, add a couple of tablespoons water. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
4. Serve hot or cold as an appetizer or side dish, with a sprinkling of parsley and a few wedges of Manchego cheese. It is excellent with grilled chicken, fish or steak.
Serves 6-8

1. Many cooks feel it is not longer necessary to salt the eggplant slices to remove the bitterness. In the past I got a few small eggplants at a farm and green market that turned out to be so bitter I couldn’t use them. Salting didn’t help and I had to throw them away. I usually salt the slices, leave them in a colander for 30 minutes and rinse them thoroughly.
2. Eggplants absorb oil like a sponge so make sure the oil is hot, I usually have to add one tablespoon to the onions before adding the eggplant. Stir quickly to coat all the slices with oil.
3. If you want to save time you can use frozen diced onion. Add to the hot oil frozen but make sure you have a cover ready to protect against splattering.

Per Serving (excluding garnishes): 98 Calories; 5g Fat (42.8% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 312mg Sodium.
Rich in Vitamin C and A, good amounts of B6 and Potassium

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