Italian Vegetable and Potato Stew

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1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1-1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil or more as needed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, with leaves, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium boiling potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 can unsweetened tomatoes in, puree (28 ounces)
1 cup vegetable broth
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup mediterranean black olives, pitted and chopped

Place the eggplant in a colander and toss with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Let stand for 1 hour to draw out the bitter juices. Rinse well, drain and pat dry with kitchen towels.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the eggplant and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. (You may have to add a little more oil if the eggplant sticks). Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan, and add the onion, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved eggplant, the potatoes, the tomatoes with their puree, vegetable broth, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the red pepper flakes; if using dried basil, add it now. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in the olives and, if using, the fresh basil, and continue cooking to blend the flavors, about 5 minutes.

Serve the stew hot, warm or at room temperature.



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