This dish is one hot mess. But delicious! I mean, look at it. Not exactly the most appealing thing you can cook, but it’s my favourite vegetable dish. It’s super tasty with minimal seasoning, showcasing what a home garden or farmers market can grow with love. This was a specialty of my Nonno’s – his garden yielded all the vegetables needed to get this dish in motion. And it was his cornbread he made in the early mornings that he’d add in.
“Impanata” traditionally means “breaded” or “to bread” something like meat cutlets or eggplant. In that process, the meat or vegetable is coated in flour, egg, then a breadcrumb mixture that includes seasoning and cheese. Check out my “fettini”/veal cutlets recipe for an example. However, in the case of this mixed vegetable dish, “impananta” means to mix in bread, in a way to fortify the dish and make it a bit more substantial. The bread used is “frizzini”, made when fresh hearty bread rounds (like cornbread) are sliced in two and dried out slowly in the oven. This was a method of preserving bread when ingredients were scarce. The bread can then be eaten hard or reconstituted with water, oil, soup or when added to a dish like this “impanata” I’m featuring today. You can make your own frizzini or purchase them at any good Italian food store.
For the vegetables: look for the first tender garden produce, or young vegetables to get this recipe right: shiny small eggplant, young zucchini, and flat beans where the bean itself isn’t fully grown and plump yet. Add these into a pan for a little slow cooking and it’s vegetable heaven on your plate. Nothing says “summer garden fresh” more than this dish. I eat it as a main, but it works as a side dish as well, you just might have to convince your family or guests to take a bite first. Yes, it’s not pretty but it has all the things Italians love: fresh vegetables, slow cooking, using what you’ve got (the bread!) and eating as a family. This recipe makes enough for 6-8 people, but if you have leftovers just crisp them up in a frying pan the next day.
Mixed Summer Vegetables with Cornbread (Impanata di Verdure)
3-4 frizzini (dried bread)
3/4 lb Italian flat beans
1 yellow onion (or one bunch green onions)
1 19oz can plum tomatoes (or 5-6 fresh, peeled and seeded tomatoes)
2 small eggplants
1 medium zucchini
5-6 large basil leaves, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
(optional: red peppers or hot peppers, seeded and thinly sliced)
First things first: prepare all the fresh vegetables. Choose small to medium zucchini. If the zucchini is tender, keep the skin on. Wash the zucchini and cut into thin slices (removing any large seeds with a spoon first). Look for smaller, firm and shiny eggplant to ensure there are less seeds within. Peel and cut into thin strips.
Wash and trim the bean ends. Thinly slice the onion. If using fresh tomatoes, wash, blanch, and peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Wash and shred or chiffonade the basil.
Warm the olive oil in a large pan. Add in the beans and onions and cook until just soft. Add in the cut eggplant and zucchini and top with your basil and salt. Don’t worry if your pan looks too full, the vegetables will reduce in volume as they cook. On medium-low heat, cook the vegetables, uncovered, stirring occasionally. As they reduce, the vegetables will release a lot of water that will need to evaporate.
After about 30-40 minutes, when there is a lot of water is in the pan, turn up to medium-high to get rid of the water. Add in the tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid is gone.
If you find the vegetables are not evenly cooked (that is, some of the eggplant or zucchini are still raw or plump), put a lid on the pan and turn it to low to slow down the cooking and cook evenly.
Meanwhile wrap the frizzini in a tea towel and smash them with a pot, hammer or meat tenderizer until you are left with a rough crumble, but not just small crumbs.
With most, but not all of the water gone from the pan, add the bread, stir, and cover for five minutes for the bread to soak up the remaining juices. If you find the bread is still too dry after this (it should have softened significantly), add in 1-2 ounces of water.
Turn off the heat and stir in the cheese just before serving.