The Mediterranean diet is the pride of Italian cuisine, especially the southern one. The American doctor Ancel Keys, who was the first to coin this term, noted that the populations of Southern Italy, especially those of Cilento, had an above average health and longevity: he attributed this characteristic to the particular diet, rich in vegetables and blue fish, olive oil and goat cheeses, and low in meat and saturated fats. Many fibers and vitamins, few proteins, and almost none of animal origin: these characteristics find their maximum exaltation in one of the best and least known dishes of Cilento cuisine, the ciambotta.
Very simple in its preparation, which is however long and requires patience as well as some specific knowledge, the ciambotta is the perfect synthesis of the Mediterranean diet: a mix of vegetables, the use of frying to flavor, the tomato to mix everything. Similar in some ways to the French ratatouille, and in other respects to the Sicilian caponata, the ciambotta is however unique. Peppers, aubergines, potatoes and tomatoes: these are the basic ingredients. Not only are meat and fish absent, but also eggs and milk derivatives: it is not only a vegetarian dish, like most of the recipes of poor cuisine, but even vegan. This does not mean that it is less tasty, on the contrary.
Let’s start with aubergines, which must be those with a dark purple skin and an elongated shape. First cut them into fairly thick vertical strips, and then into pieces of about one centimeter on each side. At this point let’s put them in a colander mixing them with a handful of coarse salt, and crushing them under a weight let them drain for at least an hour. Then squeeze them and dry them.
We also prepare the peppers, half yellow and half red, reducing them into fairly large chunks, but not cutting them with a knife but breaking them up with your hands after having deprived them of the stalk and of the seeds and internal filaments. We wash, peel and cut the potatoes into cubes. We take care that all the vegetables are well dry before frying them. In a deep saucepan, we heat the seed oil up to 170 ° C: even though the Mediterranean diet is dominated by olive oil, peanut oil is preferable due to its higher smoke point. In a separate pot, large enough to contain all the final product, let the tomato puree cook slowly and not for long with a little oil and a little garlic.
We fry starting from the aubergines, continuing with the peppers and ending with the potatoes, which due to their porous nature will absorb all the aromas of the vegetables previously cooked in the same oil. Every time we change vegetables, we are careful to remove all residues from the pan, which can produce toxic compounds when burned. As we drain the fried vegetables, instead of placing them on absorbent paper we go to deposit them directly in the pan with the sauce, without stirring immediately so as not to lose crunchiness. For the same reason, we only adjust salt at the end. When the last piece of potato has reached its companions, the ciambotta would be ready. Instead, it is advisable to rest for an hour, so that the flavors blend together. The ideal would even be to prepare it in the morning for the evening, or in the evening for the next day. When ready to serve, it can be reheated, or enjoyed at room temperature. In both cases, it is completed with a top of fresh basil. Welcome to Cilento and long live the ciambotta, elixir of long life.