Ciambotta is a delicious, warming and hearty southern Italian vegetable stew, filled with onions, bell peppers, zucchini and mushrooms and richly flavored with tomato, garlic and oregano. Invite the whole family over, make a big pot of ciambotta and serve it with some crusty bread. It's a meal in itself and everyone will love it!
Although this dish needs nothing else, a wonderful Italian starter would be this easy-to-make Bresaola Salad with Arugula and Parmesan.
Ciambotta vs Jumbot
I’ve never seen this dish on any Italian restaurant menu, but for my whole life, I’ve loved this Italian stew which I knew as “jumbot.” That's what my mother called it. It’s what my grandmother called it. So did my Italian-American friends. I always thought that the name “jumbot” was a play on the word “jumble,” as in, this dish was made up of a jumble of different vegetables.
I laughed when I learned recently that “jumbot” is a actually an Italian-American mangling of the word for the vegetable stew called "ciambotta" (cham-boh-tah), especially by descendants of Italian immigrants in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area. In the same way that “ricotta” gets pronounced “ree-goat” and “prosciutto” becomes “pruh-zhoot.” In these examples, the final syllables of words are eliminated and sometimes a consonant is replaced with a different one. I love it!
History of ciambotta and our family
An immigrant Italian couple, Nick and Nonina, lived next door to my grandparents in coastal New Jersey for many years. I remember them back in the 1960’s. In their backyard, they recreated a slice of the old country. Grapevines on trellises hung over a charming, rustic wooden outdoor dining table. An expansive vegetable garden surrounded the table, with its fragrant summer bounty of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and herbs. Before composting was mainstream in America, I remember Nonina lovingly burying all of her kitchen scraps and coffee grounds directly into the soil of her garden to nourish her plants.
As a side note: Nonina was also a character. She dreamed of her son Charlie marrying my mother, but her hopes were dashed when my Mom got engaged to my English/German father. Nonina expressed her grief by wearing all black to my parent’s wedding, as if it were a funeral!
It was Nonina that passed the recipe for ciambotta on to my Nana (grandmother). And my grandmother probably just wrote it down as it sounded to her, “jumbot.” Regardless, this ciambotta recipe was a favorite of mine when I was a child and my mother continues to make it to this day. And now, so do I. And I am thrilled to share our family recipe with you.
This Ciambotta recipe makes good use of the summer bounty from your vegetable garden. But the good news is, even in winter, you can easily find the vegetables you need on supermarket shelves.
If I'm going to be picky about any ingredient in this recipe, it's going to be the canned crushed tomatoes. Go for the best quality possible, either an authentic San Marzano brand or my current favorite, Bianco DiNapoli Organic Crushed Tomatoes.
- yellow onions
- garlic cloves
- extra virgin olive oil
- green bell peppers
- zucchini (courgettes)
- fresh parsley
- sea salt
- cremini mushrooms
- crushed tomatoes
- dried oregano
- Italian seasoning
- crushed red pepper flakes
- grated parmesan cheese (to serve)
See recipe card for quantities.
Peel the onions and trim the ends. Slice each onion in half through the stem ends. Place cut side down and slice into ⅓”-½” wedges. Peel and slice garlic cloves.
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions and garlic. Sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 15-20 minutes. Don’t let the onions brown.
While the onions sauté, slice the peppers: Cut each pepper into 5 pieces, 4 quarters around the core and then the bottom piece. Cut each slice into ⅓”-½” wedges.
When the onions have softened, add the peppers, zucchini, parsley and sea salt and stir to combine. Sauté an additional 15 minutes until all vegetables have started to soften.
Next, cut the ends off each zucchini. Slice each zucchini lengthwise and then crosswise into ⅓”-½” half moons. Roughly chop the parsley.
Slice the mushrooms, if you bought whole mushrooms. Add mushrooms, tomatoes, 1 cup of water, oregano, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper. Stir until well-combined. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat slightly, cover and let cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes more. To serve, label into shallow bowls and top with grated parmesan.
- Traditional - Most traditional southern Italian ciambotta recipes include chunks of eggplant and potatoes. My family does not use them, but they will be delicious added to this recipe, diced, after sautéing the onions and garlic.
- Meaty - My family loves ciambotto flavored with meat. Crumble, brown and drain 1 pound each of ground beef and mild Italian pork sausage. Add the cooked crumbles to the stew during the last 10 minutes of cooking. It’s not traditional, but it’s the way it is usually served at our home and it’s delicious.
- Punchy - Kick up the flavor even more by adding additional pungent flavoring ingredients such as olives or capers.
You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make ciambotta, but you will want to break out your trusty Dutch oven (like this classic Le Creuset) as well as your sharpest chef's knife. Check your knife. This recipe involves a lot of vegetable chopping. With a sharp knife, this task tranforms from a chore to a pleasure. Give your knife a quick sharpening before you start.
Let cool and store covered in the Dutch oven for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Portion out servings into storage containers and freeze for up to 6 months. Pull a container out of the freezer when you don't feel like cooking, but want a quick, healthy, delicious dinner.
Ciambotta (Italian Vegetable Stew)
- 4 yellow onions, medium sized
- 4 garlic cloves, large
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 green bell peppers
- 3 zucchini (courgettes), medium sized
- ½ cup fresh Italian parsley
- 2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 lb cremini mushrooms, pre-sliced if possible
- 28 oz crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- grated parmesan cheese, to serve
- Peel the onions and trim the ends. Slice each onion in half through the stem ends. Place cut side down and slice into ⅓”-½” wedges. Peel and slice garlic cloves.
- Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven and add the onions and garlic. Sauté on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 15-20 minutes. Don’t let the onions brown.
- While the onions sauté, slice the peppers: Cut each pepper into 5 pieces, 4 quarters around the core and then the bottom piece. Cut each slice into ⅓”-½” wedges.
- Next, cut the ends off each zucchini. Slice each zucchini lengthwise and then crosswise into ⅓”-½” half moons. Roughly chop the parsley.
- When the onions have softened, add the peppers, zucchini, parsley and sea salt and stir to combine. Sauté an additional 15 minutes until all vegetables have started to soften.
- Slice the mushrooms, if you bought whole mushrooms. Add mushrooms, tomatoes, 1 cup of water, oregano, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper. Stir until well-combined. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat slightly, cover and let cook at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes more. To serve, label into shallow bowls and top with grated parmesan.
Ratatouille is a French Provençal vegetable stew that originated in Nice. Preparations vary from place to place, but the stew typically contains tomato, garlic, onion, zucchini, bell pepper and eggplant, flavored with regional herbs. Italians have a very similar stewed vegetable dish called ciambotta, which can contain the same vegetables and similar flavorings. Ciambotta is sometimes referred to as “Italian Ratatouille.” My family recipe for ciambotta does not include eggplant, so ciambotta for me has a very different taste than ratatouille, which always contains eggplant. Also, many recipes for ciambotta contain potatoes, whereas potatoes are not a component of French ratatouille.
Traditionally, Italian vegetable stew or "ciambotta" is made with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, eggplant and potatoes. My family’s version, handed down for generations, forgoes the eggplant and potatoes, and adds sliced cremini mushrooms. If you start with those basics, you will have a delicious stew. But go ahead and get creative and use vegetables that you have on hand, adding longer cooking vegetables (like carrots) in with the onions and garlic, and faster cooking vegetables, (like broccoli) with the zucchini and peppers.