Lu Stufatu (Sexy, Sexy Stewed Vegetables)

by Silvestro on January 21, 2010

Like many of the more wily concepts in life- things like true love, sexual harassment, and even obscenity itself, lu stufatu is one of those things that is almost impossible to pin down, empirically: You can just bet your boots that you’ll know it when you see it.

Does the dish have to have potatoes? Probably. Does it have to have bay leaves? It often does, but thyme and mentuccia and even Penny Royal make appearances from time to time. Must it have bell peppers? Most likely. Aubergines? You bet. Sheep’s milk cheese? Well, that’s when things turn slippery. In short, lu stuffatu is a wine-less ratatouille, a more sprawling version of the Catalan Samfaina or in English, an array of vegetables stewed in their own juice, dusted or not, with some spicy sheep’s milk cheese. It’s also just about one of my favourite dishes ever, perhaps even my ‘one dish for the rest of your life on the desert island’ answer, if you were to ask.

I think the key, like all good food here in Italy, is to let the market guide the ‘recipe’, rather than to think of the dish as having hard and fast rules. You could probably even make a fairly stodgy version of one just by clearing out the drawer in your refrigerator. By ‘stodgy’, I mean that a stuffatu is only as good as its ingredients and I don’t think I’ve ever made one with ingredients older than a few hours back from the market, which is probably why the dish always pops in my mouth. And in my memory, if I happen to go long enough without tearing into one, which thankfully doesn’t happen often.

French enamelware is my preferred vessel, but I have a neighbor that makes hers in the oven, something that strikes me as fundamentally wrong. An old friend of mine used to make hers adding tomato sauce, which turned the dish into a thick version of vegetable soup. She was a nice woman but things were doomed between us, and maybe not just even because of her stuffatu, if memory serves. Restaurants here will occasionally make a finely-diced version, calling it stuffatu, but I don’t think the dish should ever be fussy or look as if the cook was drilled in knife skills by German Stormtroopers.

It’s just not that kind of dish. It’s supposed to taste like ‘home’, another often wily concept.

Here is my ‘recipe’, which if we’ve ever met, you probably already know it isn’t really a recipe, anyway.

Hit your favourite market and grab a couple of anything that looks good: courgettes, aubergenes, waxy potatoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, leeks, carrots, bell peppers. Cut everything into logical pieces, smaller the longer each takes to cook (you do this already anyway, whenever you make soup, whether you realise it or not). Take a heavy,heavy bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid and get the puppy hot for a few minutes. Coat the bottom with a drizzle of your best olive oil. Toss everything in, minus anything really soft, such as the tomatoes, and keep it moving for a few minutes, browning everything. Salt it, add the tomatoes, cover and simmer until tender. Toss in the bay leaves or thyme, and a good glug of raw oil. Stir. Set the table. Plate nicely and dust it with a good spicy pecorino, or even a well-aged parmiggiano, if you are really in a pinch. I like a high acid red with it, although I’m naturally prone towards Italian wine anyway.

If you were to throw in Jennifer Hudson in something clingy, some monkeys specially trained to use a cork screw (in my mind the monkeys are always dressed like little Bell-Hops), then, yeah, I could be happy just with lu stuffatu for a very, very long time, with or without the dusting of spicy pecorino.

Hit your favourite market and grab a couple of anything that looks good: courgettes, aubergenes, waxy potatoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, leeks, carrots, bell peppers. Cut everything into logical pieces, smaller the longer each takes to cook (you do this already anyway, whenever you make soup, whether you realise it or not). Take a heavy,heavy bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid and get the puppy hot for a few minutes. Coat the bottom with a drizzle of your best olive oil. Toss everything in, minus anything really soft, such as the tomatoes, and keep it moving for a few minutes, browning everything. Salt it, add the tomatoes, cover and simmer until tender. Toss in the bay leaves or thyme, and a good glug of raw oil. Stir. Set the table. Plate nicely and dust it with a good spicy pecorino, or even a well-aged parmiggiano, if you are really in a pinch. I like a high acid red with it, something with lots of mineral flavours to mimic those in the vegetables….although I’m naturally prone towards Southern Italian wine anyway.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

maribel October 26, 2011 at 3:30 am

Hi there, lovely article.
Did you mean that the smaller you cut the vegetables the SHORTER it takes to cook?

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Tonia February 22, 2012 at 1:52 am

No, I think he meant that the longer cooking vegies (things like carrots, turnips, etc) would be cut smaller than things like bell peppers, zuchinni, etc. This sounds really good! I know what I’ll be having for dinner tomorrow!

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