A few weeks back, on the last day of summer, in fact, I was trying to build a meal around the fabulous produce I had bought at the farmers' market, namely cherry tomatoes, fingerling potatoes, eggplant, and zucchini. I also had a large fennel bulb I wanted to use; so I did my usual when I'm short on ideas and Googled a recipe including all of these ingredients. The first thing that caught my eye was a Summer Vegetable Cianfotta on Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog, a recipe she gleaned from A16: Food + Wine. The Italian vegetable stew is a cinch to make and was so satisfyingly delicious for two night's in a row. Even though summer's behind us, I'm sure I'll continue to make it as a fall and winter soup. Particularly since Stephan keeps asking for it! (I didn't take a photo of the soup when I made it, so I've borrowed this pretty image from Heidi's site.)
Serves 8 as a first course, 4 as a main course
- 1 globe eggplant, trimmed and diced (about 4 cups)
4 summer zucchini or squashes, trimmed and diced (about 4 cups)
1 fennel bulb
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
4 sprigs (fresh) marjoram
1 bay leaf
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed (about 2 cups)--I used fingerling since I had them on hand
2 cups water
1 cup fiorelli or thinly sliced squash blossoms
1 cup cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved
Block of aged pecorino for shaving
Preheat the oven to 300˚F.
Evenly distribute the eggplant and zucchini on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut off the stalks and feathery tops (reserve for another use) from the fennel bulb, halve lengthwise, and then cut away the core. Cut the halves lengthwise into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices. You should have about 2 cups.
In a 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed pot, combine the olive oil, garlic, marjoram, and bay leaf over medium heat and sweat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until the garlic begins to soften. Stir in the fennel and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook gently for about 2 minutes, or until the fennel begins to soften. Stir in the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes more.
Pat the zucchini and eggplant pieces dry and add them to the pot. Stir the vegetables to ensure they are coated evenly and generously with the oil. Cover the pot, place in the oven, and cook, stirring gently every 10 to 15 minutes, for about 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart.
Remove from the oven and drain off most of the olive oil from the vegetables (you can reserve the oil in the refrigerator for a future batch of cianfotta). Add the water to the vegetables, place over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the fiorelli and tomatoes and simmer for a minute or two more. Check for seasoning and season.
Divide the soup among warmed bowls. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few pecorino curls over the top of each serving. Serve immediately.