Lisa’s dad said that this Italian version of ratatouille has two names, depending on whether you live in the south of Italy or the north. Whether you grew up calling it cianbotta or cianfotta, it means “tasteful and colorful.” It’s a rural dish that farm folks learned to make after experiencing the hardships caused by the second World War. Lisa’s mom remembers this as very delicious and nutritious; the vegetables taking the place of meat, which was unaffordable during those times. Even though the recipe still represents poverty to a lot of the older generation, it’s a comfort food that evokes unforgettable childhood memories. Harold McGee recommends you salt the eggplant pieces after you slice them. This draws out the moisture and collapses their spongy texture, so they don’t absorb all the oil when you start cooking them.
1 large red bell pepper
6 small red-skinned potatoes
3 plum tomatoes
1 large onion
a handful of fresh basil leaves
olive oil, salt and pepper
1. Cut all vegetables into 1/4-inch pieces. In a small pot, boil potatoes in salted water until half cooked. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until soft. Add potatoes and peppers. Cook for about 10 minutes on low heat. Add the rest of the vegetables including the basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 15 minutes. Enjoy as a side dish or as a main course, served with fresh Italian garlic bread.