Pisto Manchego is one of those meals that just begs for a warm, sunny porch and an icy-cold bottle of rosé. It’s a sultry mix of some of summer’s biggest celebrities: plump eggplant, zucchini, and punchy tomatoes. And the addition of nutty, salty Manchego cheese? Heaven.
Make the most of summer veggies with a big helping of pisto manchego.
The ingredients in this dish may be simple, but this is the epitome of a recipe being more than the sum of its parts. It’s a riot of colors, flavors, and textures, all held together with grassy and fruity olive oil and nutty cheese. And, obviously, plenty of grilled bread is key for scooping up every morsel.
It may look stewy, but this recipe is all about summer.
Rather than simmering everything together and ending up with a homogeneous (albeit tasty) stew, I wanted to make sure to really celebrate the individual textures and flavors. By cooking and the zucchini and eggplant separately, each vegetable is allowed to brown nicely while turning perfectly tender at its own speed. Usually one vegetable will cook faster than the other, and overcrowding the pan just steams everything instead of browning. No mushy zucchini here!
Cooking down tomatoes, onions, and peppers makes the perfect, silky sauce to coat the tender eggplant and zucchini. A tiny bit of tomato paste helps deepen the flavors quickly. Cumin and oregano add just the right amount of complexity, taking the flavors of each veggie to the next level.
Stay classic with grilled bread, or get creative…!
I’ve never actually eaten this without a basket of grilled crusty bread at the ready. If you’re looking for a gluten-free option, however, this would be fantastic served over polenta (creamy or fried) or with roasted potatoes. Or… If you’re feeling especially frisky… Make a base of french fries and smother them with pisto manchego and extra cheese! Just keep the rosé cold and free-flowing!!
As long as you’re celebrating summer produce by making pisto manchego, give this summer plum crostata a try! It’s incredibly easy to toss together, and really lets your plums sing. Also great with peaches or nectarines!
Don't sleep on the olive oil and Manchego cheese!
Sometimes garnishes just seem “restaurant-y” or “extra,” like a recipe developer is having too much fun playing with their food. I’ll admit that can be true–garnishes are fun!–but not this time. You need that oil and cheese!!
Olive oil–a good, grassy, peppery olive oil–is one of the fastest ways you can boost the flavor of almost any dish.
The amazing complexity of olive oil tastes great in general, sure, but when added as a finishing drizzle it quickly lifts everything around it to new heights. This is largely because the fats in the oil carry aromatic flavor molecules of the ingredients it’s garnishing, not just its own aromas. By adding olive oil, you’re helping the overall flavors of the dish to coat your mouth and linger a bit longer. Since vegetables lack the same fat as animal protein or dairy, cooking with and finishing with a generous drizzle of flavorful oil is the key to opening everything up and giving the dish a truly “finished” feel.
Similarly, the nutty-salty character of Manchego cheese is just as crucial for completing the flavors of these summery vegetables.
The natural fats in the cheese work in the same way as the olive oil, adding a bit of richness to an otherwise lean group of ingredients. The natural salts and umami in the cheese help to add another layer of seasoning. That’s much more interesting and complex than just another pinch of salt! If you’re looking to make this dish vegan, you can certainly omit the cheese. It will still be delicious. However, there are some very good vegan Parmesan substitutes out there these days. While Parm is quite different than Manchego it has a similar nuttiness that make it a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Notes for Success:
The ideal eggplant for this recipe is long, slender Japanese or Chinese eggplant. The ubiquitous globe eggplants tend to pale in comparison. Their skin is tougher, their seeds are more bitter, and their flesh is less flavorful and creamy. If you can find other fun varieties of eggplant, by all means use them! But if you’re stuck with basic globe eggplants, don’t fret. You can still make this recipe! Simply cut the globe eggplant into slightly smaller pieces, to increase the surface area for browning. You may need to cook it several minutes longer than creamier Japanese eggplant, too.
- 1 medium zucchini, stem and seeds discarded, cut into ½-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 medium Japanese/Chinese eggplants (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (See Notes)
- 1 large onion (any color), quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
- 2 bell peppers (any color), cored and cut into 1⁄2-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoons tomato paste
- 8 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- ¾ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 large heirloom tomato, cored and cut into ½-inch chunks or smaller
- ¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
- Manchego cheese, shaved
- Good quality extra-virgin olive oil (The Good Stuff!)
- Step 1Toss the zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Set aside. Line a medium bowl with paper towel and set aside.
- Step 2In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 6 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant in an even layer and cook without stirring until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Let steam 3 to 5 minutes, stirring once or twice, until completely tender when pierced with a fork, but not yet falling apart. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggplant to the paper towel-lined bowl.
- Step 3Repeat with the zucchini: To the same pot, add 1 tablespoon more oil and the zucchini in an even layer. Cook without stirring until well-browned on the bottom. Do not cover. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides and tender when pierced with a fork, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to the bowl with the eggplant.
- Step 4Add the onion, a pinch of salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the peppers, another pinch of salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until beginning to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook until aromatic, 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, cover, and let simmer over medium heat until the tomatoes are mostly broken down and the garlic is tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Step 5Uncover and reduce to low. Stir in the parsley, zucchini, and eggplant. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve once the zucchini and eggplant have warmed through. Top with plenty of shaved Manchego and drizzle generously with good quality olive oil.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Planning on making this for company this week. Your pictures are fantastic!
Thanks Isabella! I hope you’re able to find Japanese or Chinese eggplant–their creamier, sweeter flesh is SO nice here! Please tag me on social media if you post pictures. I love seeing people’s creations!