Pisto, commonly known as pisto manchego, is a traditional Castilian dish that originated in La Mancha region in central Spain.
It is every Spaniard’s favorite with each region and family having its own variation and recipes. The most popular versions of pisto include pisto andaluz from the Andalusian region, pisto toledano, pisto a la bilbaína from the Basque country, which includes scrambled eggs and so on. It is one dish that is unanimously popular both among the vegetarians and meat eaters throughout Spain. Due to its simplicity in preparation and the use of commonly available vegetables, it gained popularity instantaneously.
How to make pisto?
Pisto is a hearty dish with rich and juicy flavors from fresh vegetables that are slow cooked in olive oil. The highlight of the recipe is that these vegetables are cooked separately one at a time. The onions are sautéed first. Only after they are well cooked, the bell peppers are added and then zucchini and then tomatoes. Once the tomatoes are added, the pisto is simmered until the flavors meld in perfect harmony. Each step of the process is done on a low flame, which amplifies the taste manifold. This has to be done patiently and certainly not recommended for those in a hurry!
What is the origin or pisto?
It is believed that the pisto originated from the ancient Moorish dish al-buraniya or as it is known in Spanish as alboronia. Al-buraniya was specially created and served at the wedding of the Moorish princess Būrān. Hence the name al-buraniya in her honor. It is certainly a surprise to have a popular vegetarian dish from the Muslim rulers.
It is no doubt that the modern day Spanish cuisine is still highly influenced by the Arabic flavors. The Moorish rulers ruled the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. Hence it is inevitable that there are traces of Moorish impressions in the Spanish lives. Along with their historical and cultural significance, they also left an enduring mark on the Spanish gastronomy. Moors introduced the technique of frying in oil to the Spanish community and also advanced the production of olive oil.
Pisto in Spanish generally refers to diced vegetables. It is derived from the Latin word pistus meaning crushed or pounded. The ancient recipe only had eggplants and olive oil and garlic. Over the years, the dish has evolved and been adapted with time. With the introduction of capsicum and tomatoes from the American continent, eggplant was gradually replaced. In the present day pisto, tomatoes and bell peppers are a must and as per the availability, other vegetables are included. It is a vegetarian delight that makes use of the Mediterranean vegetables that are in season.
Serving pisto manchego is quite simple. It can be served warm or cold. It is generally a meal in itself when served with a platter of bread or with a Spanish style fried egg on top. Stews always taste better the next day! Letting it rest melds the flavor properly.
Sometimes, it is also served as an accompaniment to other dishes. It can also be served as a part of tapas selection. More or less like a bruschetta, the pisto is served on top of bread with pieces of ham. It is also used as a filling inside the flaky empanada or served with pasta.
Vegetable stews around the world
Vegetable stew is not uncommon to man and it exists in every nook in the world. The Mediterranean belt is no exception and in fact it is home to many of these one-pot meals including hearty summer vegetables. The traditional stew-based dishes invariably had eggplants as their main ingredient with abundance of olive oil and they are slow cooked in a traditional earthenware pots. As mentioned earlier, the new foods from the western world replaced eggplants giving birth to so many pisto like dishes around the world.
The French have their famous ratatouille and pisto is often known as the Spanish ratatouille due to its worldwide popularity. Undoubtedly, many Spaniards argue that pisto is the predecessor of ratatouille, which travelled from La Mancha through the Basque country into the French territory. Piperade is a typical Basque dish, which is very similar to the pisto.
Similarly, the Turks have their turlu and sakşuka (do not confuse it with shakshuka), the Moroccans have zaalouk, the Greeks have their famous ikaria soufiko, the Italians have ciambrotta and the Sicilians have their own special – caponata.
Within Spain, we have samfania from the Catalan region and tumbet from Mallorca, which are the local variations of pisto.
Pisto manchego is a hearty Spanish stew with rich and juicy flavors from seasonal vegetables, including tomato, bell pepper, onion and zucchini.
- 3 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 2 onions , finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper , diced
- 1 red bell pepper , diced
- 5 tomatoes , peeled and seeded
- 2 zucchini , diced
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Black pepper , freshly ground
- Crush the tomatoes.
- Heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven. Reduce the heat and brown the garlic and onion for 15 minutes over low heat, stirring regularly.
- Add the bell peppers and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Finally add the zucchini and crushed tomatoes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour 40 minutes, stirring gently and regularly.
- At the end of cooking, remove the lid, increase the heat slightly and cook for another 20 minutes or until the liquid is evaporated.
- The tomatoes must still be juicy, but without the remaining liquid released by the other vegetables. All the ingredients must be well incorporated.
- Serve immediately.