Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.
While the eponymous movie made the French version famous, nearly every culture around the Mediterranean eats a one-pot stew of eggplant, onions, summer squash, tomatoes and peppers. In Turkey, cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek, mint, and dill flavor turlu; while cumin, cilantro and preserved lemon go into the za’look in North Africa. The Catalonians in Northern Spain call it samfaina and often claim their next-door neighbors got the idea for ratatouille from them.
What makes samfaina different is a long, slow cooking that renders the mix of finely chopped summer vegetables soft and creamy. Frequently described as jamlike, samfaina works as a sauce for cooked meats—the Catalonians usually eat it alongside chicken or salt cod—as well as a spread for grilled or toasted bread. It’s especially good mixed into cooked beans, but my favorite way to eat it borrows from the Majorcan version called tombet that includes potatoes.
Spanish cooks utilize a technique they call tomate rallado—rubbing cut tomatoes on a box grater. It’s a quick, simple approach that results in a bowlful of runny pulp without any skin. Just halve the tomatoes along the equator (as opposed to the stem end), put your grater over a bowl, and press firmly with all your fingers as you rub the fruit against the large holes until there’s nothing left but the peel.
Samfaina With Potatoes
2-3 tomatoes, grated
1 6-inch zucchini, grated
1 medium globe eggplant
1 Anaheim pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tennis ball-sized yellow potato per person, boiled
Cut tomatoes in half and, using the large holes of a box grater, grate them over a bowl until only the skin remains. Discard the skin and set bowl aside.
Cut the eggplant, onion and pepper into small, roughly 1/4 inch, pieces. Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater. Combine vegetables in a large skillet with olive oil and salt. Cook over medium heat until very soft, about 20 minutes, then add tomatoes and sugar, if using. (A small amount of sugar in savory foods acts as a flavor enhancer.)
Move the skillet to a 250-degree oven and cook, uncovered, for about 2 hours, or until the samfaina has thickened to a jamlike consistency. Stir in vinegar and cook for another 20 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let cool.
Boil potatoes, whole and unpeeled, covered in well-salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and, if desired, slip off the peels with your fingers. Cut into thick slices, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, and top with a few spoonfuls of the samfaina. I like this best at room temperature.