Last month when I was on the island of Elba, one of the Tuscan archipelago of islands, I came across a dish on a menu I’d never seen before: gurguglione. Excited to find a new dish with such an unusual name, I called the waiter over. It was, he informed me, a typical Tuscan dish of slow cooked vegetables. Well that’s interesting, I said, because I’ve been studying food in Tuscany for 12 years and have never heard of this “typical” dish! In Siena when they cook a bunch of vegetables together they call it “verdure in umido”, cooked vegetables. (Turned out he was from Sardegna and had been working in Germany for 30 years, what does he know of “typical Tuscan!” )
This is a good example of how incredibly diverse regional Italian food can be: you can live in a region for years and new dishes keep popping up. Like I always say, it’s like peeling an onion.
So he starts calling people over and the discussion ensues. Pretty soon we have two waiters, the chef, two cooks, a bus boy and the man sitting at the next table all discussing gurguglione, where it came from, why it’s called that and what it means.
I was comforted to know that the chef was the most informed. According to him, “gurgugliare” is an old Tuscan verb that means “to gurgle”, but the name for this dish is typical to Elba . As the vegetables cook, they gurgle. It can be any combination of seasonal vegetables, but the night I had it in June, it was made with zucchini, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, much like ratatouille in France.
My grandmother used to make something similar, a lovely medley of summer vegetables to which she added cooked slices of Italian sausage. She used to call it “gimbot”, and I’ve spent years trying to find out the real name. One summer evening a couple of years ago, I made a big pot to share with my friends, Oriana and family. I told them my grandma called it “gimbot”, but I didn’t know what the real name was or where it came from. They looked at it and said “Oh, ratatouille!”
The next afternoon, Oriana called me in a state of excitement to say that a good friend from Basilicata had stopped by for an impromptu lunch and she served the leftover gimbot. After tasting it her friend asked where she learned to make ciambotto from Basilicata, it was just like her grandmother used to make! That’s how those dialects go in the south: make the “c” a “g” and cut off the end of the word.
Call it what you will, this is the perfect time of year for a big pot of stewed summer vegetables. Head to your farmers market, get out your largest pot and chop some fresh herbs. It’s delicious with Italian sausages and good bread with herbed butter.
Buon Appetito! Gina
Ciambotto con Salsicce (vegetable stew & sausage)
This hearty dish is best in the summer when every ingredient but the sausage comes fresh out of the garden. It can be served without the sausage for a filling vegetarian dinner and is excellent with a slice of good country bread spread with herb butter.
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2-3 bell peppers, red or yellow
4 zucchini or summer squash
1 medium eggplant
6 fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil
1 teas fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh tarragon
Sea salt, fresh ground black pepper
6 sweet or hot Italian sausages
Wash and cut all the vegetables into large cubes. The stew will cook for up to an hour and the vegetables should be large enough to maintain their shape and not disintegrate.
In a large pot, brown the sausages and set aside. Add olive oil to the pot and sauté the onion and garlic 2 minutes. Add the bell peppers, stir to coat with oil and sauté 5 minutes. Follow with the zucchini and then the eggplant, 1 teas each salt and pepper, stir to coat and sauté 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley and thyme and allow to cook for 30 minutes or more. Adjust salt to taste. Before serving stir in the basil and tarragon. You may either serve the stew with the sausages on the side or slice them and reheat them in the ciambotto.
Parsley, basil, chives, thyme, tarragon in any combination
Soften the butter and mix in the chopped herbs and salt.