Saturday, June 22, 2019


Pisto--a summertime stew with pork and vegetables.

Stew doesn’t have to be a slow-cooked, cold weather dish. Make it with summer vegetables and quick-cooking meat such as pork or chicken and it’s great for summer. You don’t need to serve it piping hot, either. 

Pisto is that perfect summertime stew. You might recognize this vegetable dish—a medley of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant—as Provençal ratatouille. Or, confuse its name with pesto or pistou, a garlic-pine nut sauce. But pisto is authentically Spanish. Its origins are Moorish, although in that epoch it was a stew with eggplant and meat juices, no tomatoes or peppers, which are New World vegetables.

The pisto I learned to make in Andalusia is a strictly vegetarian dish that can be served hot, often topped with a fried egg, or cold, like a salad. But in La Mancha (central Spain), pisto usually has only zucchini, peppers and tomatoes—no eggplant. Often it has meat or poultry cooked with the vegetables, making a more substantial meal.

You can watch a very young Pedro Almodóvar making his mother’s recipe for pisto manchego and talking about life and film-making on a 1985 episode of "Con las Manos en la Masa" on TVE1. At one point he phones his mother to double-check the recipe. Her version has neither eggplant nor zucchini, only tomatoes, lots of green pepper and chunks of pork.

In hot weather, serve the stew slightly warmed, not hot. The meatless version of pisto is often served cold, with a spritz of vinegar, much like a salad or relish. It makes a nice side with fish or grilled chicken.

You'll definitely need some bread for dunking in the savory juices of this stew.

Pork and Vegetable Stew
Pisto con Magro de Cerdo

"Magro" means "lean"--as opposed to fat. But some fat keeps the pork juicy. Choose a juicy cut from the shoulder of pork for this stew. After browning, the pork needs only about 20 minutes cooking with the vegetables. 

If you’re using fresh tomatoes, grate them, saving the pulp and juices and discarding the skins. Canned tomate triturado, sieved tomatoes, can be used instead. 

Traditional pisto has no added spices or herbs. Which is not to say that you can’t season the stew to suit yourself—parsley, oregano, basil, cumin, chile. I have a prolific pepper plant on the patio, producing skinny green chiles (guindillas). I chopped a few of those and added to the medley. 

The usual accompaniment to pisto is bread, essential for sopping up the delicious juices, and often patatas fritas, fries. It’s also good served over rice or pasta or wrapped in a flour tortilla. Sure, go ahead and grate some Manchego cheese over it. This could become your favorite summer dish.

Ingredients for pisto, plus cubes of pork.

Serves 4.

1 ¼ pounds pork shoulder, cut in 1-inch cubes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cups eggplant cut in ¾-inch cubes (about 1 pound)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
Fresh green chiles, chopped (optional)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ cups grated tomato pulp or canned sieved tomatoes
3 cups diced zucchini (about 1 pound)
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper and allow it to come to room temperature.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the pieces of pork and allow them to brown 1-2 minutes before turning them to brown the other side. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork to a plate.

The vegetables and pork don't need additional liquid while cooking. After sauteeing, cover the pan to keep juices in.

Add the eggplant, onion, green and red pepper, chile, if using, and garlic to the remaining oil. Sauté, stirring, until onion is softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato and zucchini. Return the pork to the pan with any accumulated juices. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and simmer until pork and vegetables are tender, 15-20 minutes. 

Allow the stew to rest 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley.

These chiles, known as guindillas or piparras in Basque, are slightly hot. They're usually pickled in vinegar, but the fresh ones are a great addition to this vegetable stew.

More versions of pisto:

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