Pisto manchego: a classic Spanish dish that brings me back to my school days — not my student days, but when I moved to Spain to be an English teacher. At CEIP Maria Moliner, a public school in the San Blas neighborhood of Madrid, I learned that Spanish school lunch no tiene nada que ver con (has no relation to) American school lunch.
My memories of school lunches, back when I was a bitty one, consist of chicken nuggets (okay), chicken patties (also okay), cheeseburgers (kind of okay, notwithstanding that the burgers didn’t look or taste like actual meat), pizza (good, particularly for the Ellio’s fan), and fish patties (the worst of days). Usually with French fries, occasionally with tater tots, and always served on Styrofoam trays. There was very little flatware involved.
At Maria Moliner, lunch for students and teachers alike was a proper meal —generally three courses that required spoons, forks and knives. I’ll never forget how impressed I was at the sight of 8-year old children filleting whole white fish and expertly removing the bones — something that I, as a 21-year old adult person struggled to do myself. Lunch lasted two full hours and when the weather was nice, I’d walk to a nearby park and take a cat nap on a bench.
It’s true – in some places in Spain, people still do siestas.
We ate pisto manchego about once a month. Most of the niños would howl like I used to on fish patty day because they hated pisto. I could never understand why, because I loved pisto: salty, olive oily tomato sauce filled with vegetables and served with a fried egg and hunks of bread. For me, it was theee perfect lunch.
Nowadays, I make pisto manchego for a good “detox day” lunch — when I’ve been living off of cereal, sandwiches and pizza and want to fit a load of vegetables into one neat little bowl. Sometimes I serve it with eggs fried Spanish style (lots of olive oil and crispy edges), but if I want to consolidate pans (read: lazy), I bake the eggs right on top, shakshuka style. Cocinamos!
Pisto Manchego (a la Americana!)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 white onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed then sliced
- 2 zucchini, mostly peeled (leaving some green skin) and diced
- 1 1/2 – 2 red peppers, seeds removed and diced
- 4-5 vine ripe tomatoes, puréed or food processed
- coarse salt
- garnish: scallions, freshly chopped herbs (like cilantro, parsley or tarragon), a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, tahini (optional)
- Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a large pan (preferably cast iron, especially if you’re planning on baking the eggs).
- When oil is hot, add onion and garlic with a couple healthy pinches of salt; stir frequently so that neither browns (especially the garlic, which will get bitter if burned). When onions are translucent, add zucchini and another couple pinches of salt. If garlic begins to brown, turn heat down slightly and add a splash of water.
- Once peppers and zucchini have softened, add tomato and salt again. You want to taste often and salt liberally because guys – you’re cooking with zero animal fat and want this dish to be rich and tasty; not a bland ratatouille.*
- Cook, stirring frequently to combine ingredients for about five minutes. Lower heat, cover pan with large lid and simmer mixture for at least 15 minutes, keeping an eye out to make sure it doesn’t boil over. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F.
- Using a wooden spoon, make three little pools in the mixture. Crack an egg into each hole and carefully place pan in the oven.
- Cook until egg whites are firm. Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with garnishes and bread (toasted and scraped with garlic if you really want to make friends).
*No offense to the French, I’ve just had a lot of tasteless ratatouilles in my time.
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