Pisto is a vegetable melange suitable for all kinds of bread-dipping, fork-licking and lycopene-induced, tomato-tinted day dreams. It is simple enough, sauteed onions, peppers, zucchini and a little tomato sauce. Top with an egg or two and you've got something special.
It is also one of the few honestly vegetarian Spanish dishes. Spain is in general, a seriously carnivorous country. A passionate connection/devotion to all things piggy, fishy, meaty, rabbity, sea-buggy and birdy crosses all lines of class, region, and age in the Iberian peninsula. Order a salad and it will most often come covered in tuna and ham bits. But pisto is vegetable revelation. The vegetables cook down together and the eating is good! A perfect dish for cold winter nights or late Sunday lunches.
Pisto is also one of those dishes that everyone says their mom makes best. Recipe and technique consensuses are difficult to come by. There is a bit of contention about whether each ingredient should cook down separately or if they can all be cooked together. After consulting several recipes and several mothers, I have arrived at a recipe that hues close to the popular dictum. I added a little wine which strays a bit from the original, but I think it gives the dish a little more depth. Feel free to omit it for the sake of tradition. The eggs are also optional but give the pisto a little more substance. My dining companion insisted on the eggs because he claimed that without the eggs "you are just dipping bread in sauce." But I say, "what's wrong with that?" You decide.
2 onions finely chopped (divided)
3 large cloves garlic finely chopped (divided)
1 small green bell pepper finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper finely chopped
2 medium zucchinis cut into thick chunks
4 large tomatoes roughly chopped (or one large can canned tomatoes)
***(Don't worry about peeling them, but please don't tell any of the Spanish mothers that I gave you that advice! If you must peel the tomatoes, cut an x in the bottom and pop them in boiling water for about 20 seconds. Then, fish them out and carefully remove the skin. You can peel them if you really want to, but the skins are not a big deal and who wants to clean another pan?!)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup white wine
3 eggs (optional)
salt and pepper
In a large pan heat a generous glug of olive oil and add half of the onions and a teaspoon of salt. Saute until translucent then add peppers and half of the garlic and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine and let bubble for a few minutes.
In a separate sauce pan, heat some olive oil and saute the onions until translucent and soft, then add garlic and cook a few more minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 teaspoon sugar and let cook until they are thick and saucy, about 15 minutes over medium-high heat.
Add the zucchini to the onion and pepper mixture and give it a good stir. Let cook a few minutes and then add the tomato sauce. Cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Poke around the pan with a fork. If everything is tender and melty, you are ready to add the eggs or eat up, if not, check back in a few minutes and then proceed.
If you would like to make this egg-tastic, crack three eggs into the pan over the pisto (still on the flame). If you like sunny side up, cover the pan and let the whites set to your liking. If you like a more scrambley kind of egg (as I do) just mix the eggs into the pisto pretty vigorously, breaking up the yolks and essentially scrambling them into the veggies. They will cook through quickly, but you want to make sure they stay creamy, so don't don't overdo it (2-3 minutes of egg cooking, max)
With or without the eggs, eat the pisto with plenty of crusty bread maybe a little wine. Be sure to imagine that you are seated at a wooden picnic table in a sun-dappled olive grove, that should chase away any winter blues!