For six months I lived in Sevilla, Spain, with my very own temporary Spanish family. My Spanish “mom” had very little in common with my real mom, but they both had a penchant for worrying about me, and feeding me. Actually, I think the two (worrying and feeding) are inversely related for them both: worry decreases when feeding increases. Needless to say, I ate a lot in Spain.
Once we established the ground rules of no mayo and lots of vegetables, everything I was served was delicious. Smoky paprika sat sprinkled atop most dishes, luxurious olive oil coated every nook and cranny of fresh tomatoes, and fresh bread sandwiched fluffy, gooey tortilla Española. It was heavenly.
Before I returned to New York, I requested a cooking lesson so I could take a little bit of the Spanish dream I had been living back home with me. I looked over my Spanish mom’s shoulder, taking notes, as she made all of my favorites in a single afternoon: tortilla, lentil soup, spinach and garbanzos, and stuffed eggplants. The eggplants had been a mystery to me. They always came out creamy and gooey with melted, super sweet summer veggies and cheese, and a slight nuttiness. For all the complexity of flavor, it’s a pretty simple concept: ratatouille, stuffed back into the vegetables from which it came. Except in Spain they call the mixture pisto.
Now, whenever eggplant is in season, I am instantly taken back to that kitchen in Spain and try to recreate my Spanish mom’s stuffed eggplants. I dig out my notebook, manage to interpret my Spanglish (for example: “2 pimientos verdes, chopped,” or “poner en el horno, face-down”) confidently enough to make the recipe. And so, in honor of the sweet, sweet, end of summer vegetables at the market, and my Spanish mom, I give you Stuffed Berenjenas (Eggplants) and Calabacines (Zucchini).
Berenejenas y Calabacines
The larger the vegetables, the easier it will be to stuff them, so try to find the plumpest eggplants and zucchinis you can. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also add Bechamel sauce to the pisto when you stuff the eggplant and zucchinis in step 4. It adds a really nice richness. Mario Batali’s recipe for Bechamel is here.
1 large eggplant
2 large zucchinis
4 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 yellow summer squash, chopped
2 red or green bell peppers, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
4-6 oz Manchego cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Cut the eggplant and zucchinis lengthwise and cut a few criss-crossing lines into the flesh, being careful not to cut all the way through. Brush generously with olive oil (about 2 tablespoons total) and place face-down on a baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the flesh is soft enough to scoop out easily. The eggplant skin should be just starting to wilt. Leave the oven on.
2. Meanwhile, put the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes more, until slightly softened. The add the remaining vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt.
3. Once the eggplant and zucchini halves have cooled a little, scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Leave a little bit of flesh intact so that the skin remains able to support itself a bit. It should be about 1/4 inch of a border. Add the eggplant and zucchini pulp to the other vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the summer squash and peppers are soft, then turn off the heat.
4. Scoop the pisto (veggie mixture) into the scooped out eggplant and zucchini shells. You’ll have leftover pisto. Bake the stuffed vegetables for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and top with slices of Manchego cheese, then bake for another 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with black pepper and serve with fresh bread (or bread fried in olive oil).