I only blog about recipes that I love, but I’m never totally sure which dishes will resonate with my readers. It’s kind of a guessing game, wondering which recipes you’ll like more than others. I was surprised to discover how many people loved the Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowls that I posted earlier this month. It’s been pinned over 21,000 times on Pinterest in the past 30 days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tasty recipe; I just didn’t realize how strongly readers would connect with it. I suppose the fact that it’s fast, easy, vegetarian, gluten free and healthy had something to do with it. This week, knowing how much you liked the Burrito Bowls, I decided to come up with another simple and healthy quinoa bowl inspired by a different region of the world– Southern Italy.
I adore Italian food; Mediterranean herbs and vegetables are a joy to cook with. The aroma and flavors of fresh basil, oregano, and vine-ripened tomatoes make my heart happy. I based this quinoa bowl on a summery Italian dish called Ciambotta (pronounced “chambot”). Ciambotta is a classic vegetable stew that originated in Southern Italy. It became a popular dish with Italian American immigrants because it could be made quickly and affordably. The word ciambotta is also Italian slang for “a big mess.” I’m guessing this is because the stew is a mish-mosh of ingredients; it’s one of those “clean out your produce drawer” kind of dishes. Most ciambotta recipes include a base of eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes. Different Italian regions add their own unique touches… the Sicilians add greens, Puglians add fish, Neopolitans add boiled beef and chili pepper. For my Italian Vegetable Quinoa Bowl, I’ve kept the ciambotta mixture vegetarian, adding beans to the mix (like a minestrone) for added protein and a hearty texture. I also added a touch of cayenne for heat, since many variations of ciambotta include hot chili peppers. You could alternatively use red pepper flakes for the same effect.
The great thing about ciambotta is how adaptable it is. Once you’ve mastered the basic technique, there are endless spices and ingredients you can add to make it your own. Add olives or capers for saltiness, bell peppers for sweetness, green beans for bulk, or summer squash if you’ve got an excess of garden veggies to use up. I really love the aromatic flavor of fresh basil and a touch of oregano, but you could certainly take liberties with the spicing to create your own unique flavors. Ciambotta is very forgiving.
Using fresh, ripe vegetables is key to this recipe. While the ingredients may seem simple, using fresh garlic, ripe summer tomatoes, zucchini, and fresh basil really makes the flavors pop. This dish is gluten free, low fat, and heart healthy. It’s vegan without the cheese, vegetarian with (if you’re eating meat-free and using parmesan make sure it’s made with a vegetarian rennet). Next time your neighbor offers you their extra garden zucchini, tomatoes, or eggplant, say “yes, thank you” and give this recipe a try. Your heart and taste buds will thank you.
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- 1/2 lb. eggplant, cubed, skin on
- 1 lb. tomatoes, or 1 can (14-15 oz) whole, diced, or crushed tomatoes
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1/2 lb. zucchini, sliced into rounds
- 1 can cannellini or navy beans, drained
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (adds spice)
- 1/3 cup fresh chopped basil, divided
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped basil or flat leaf parsley for garnish (optional)
- Grated parmesan or mozzarella cheese for garnish (optional)
You will also need
- Blender or food processor, skillet or saute pan with lid, mesh strainer or sieve, saucepan
- Place the cubed eggplant in a colander and sprinkle all of the pieces with salt. Let the eggplant sit for about 20 minutes till beads of water form on the surface of the eggplant. While waiting for the eggplant, it's a good time to chop and prep your other ingredients. When beads of water have risen on the eggplant, rinse the eggplant thoroughly and drain to get rid of the excess salt.
- Core the fresh tomatoes and place them in a blender or food processor. Pulse them till they are crushed (liquid but not completely smooth). If you are using canned whole or diced tomatoes, pour the whole can in and pulse them in the same way. Crushed canned tomatoes do not need to be processed.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium. Pour diced onion into the hot oil and saute for a few minutes till it softens. Add the minced garlic to the pot and let it saute for 1-2 minutes longer till aromatic.
- Add the cubed eggplant, crushed tomatoes, and 1/4 cup of water to the skillet. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover the skillet with a lid and reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the eggplant cook for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a mesh strainer or sieve, drain.
- Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Pour the quinoa into the boiling water, bring back to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the quinoa simmer for about 20 minutes till it becomes tender and all the liquid has been absorbed. Keep a close eye to make sure the quinoa doesn't dry out or burn.
- After the eggplant has cooked for 15 minutes, uncover the skillet and add the sliced zucchini, beans, oregano, cayenne pepper, and 3 tbsp of fresh chopped basil (the cayenne is very spicy, add with care). Stir, bring back to a low simmer, then recover the skillet. Let the mixture cook for about 15 minutes longer till the zucchini is tender.
- When the quinoa is done cooking, remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Stir in remaining 2 tbsp of fresh chopped basil and the fresh lemon juice. Season with salt to taste. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
- When the vegetable mixture is done cooking, remove from heat. Depending on how juicy your tomatoes are, there may be a lot of liquid in the pan. The vegetable mixture should be saucy but not overly liquid. If it seems watery, simmer it for a few minutes on medium high heat, stirring frequently, till the sauce reduces a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Assemble your quinoa bowls. Divide the basil quinoa between four bowls.
- Top each portion of quinoa with the vegetable mixture.
- Top the vegetables with grated parmesan or mozzarella cheese, if desired. Garnish with fresh basil or flat leaf parsley.
- Serve warm.
Middione, Carlo (1987). The Food of Southern Italy. William Morrow & Co; New York, NY.
Scicolone, Michele. “Make It Your Way: Ciambotta.” Los Angeles Times, 20 June 2001.