Stewed Zucchini with Tomatoes

July 27, 2007 at 2:22 PM (dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fusion, tomatoes, USA, young gourds)

A little while back, Musical posted an intriguing Punjabi “rural” recipe.  I made it, and found that the final dish, plus her written introduction to the recipe, reminded me very much of another dish that my own maternal grandmother would often make, especially if she knew that I was coming to visit as she was well aware that I loved it so: stewed zucchini.


I don’t know too much about this dish’s history, but I can tell you that it is very popular here in the midwestern area of the U.S.; I would think it was introduced in the early 1900’s when there were many Italian immigrants settling in the area, but this is pure speculation on my part… and, although there are a few vegetable-canning companies that produce a simple and bland version of this dish, thankfully I never tasted them while I was growing up. My German grandmother always prepared it fresh with ingredients from her large garden.

Just short of 5 feet tall, she was a brilliant lady with a quiet, determined energy, who seldom followed recipes nor wrote down her own. Therefore, she had little to pass on to future cooks in the family unless you happened to be present during the heyday of her busy kitchen with an interest and a watchful eye, tasting and asking questions. Her spicing/herbing had a tendency to change with her moods, but I can tell you for certain that, in this dish, she always included garlic and a smidge of ground chiles- not too much, because grandpa would complain… but as much as she could get away with!

This is my own recipe….er, well, I should say that this was the way I made it a few days ago! I usually don’t think about it and just hum along while I add this and that to taste, but this time I wrote it down! And I must say it’s the best I’ve ever made.

Other summer squashes/young gourds can be used in place of zucchini; in fact, my grandmother usually made it using half dark-green zucchini and half yellow crooknecks for a nice colour combo.

Stewed Zucchini with Tomatoes

4 T olive oil
1 T butter*
3 T garlic paste

2 lg. onions, diced 1/2″
2-3 stalks of celery, sliced crosswise 1/4″
1 C of mixed green chiles and/or capsicums(bell peppers), seeded and diced 1/2″ (I used seeded serranos)

1/4 t or more of ground red chiles (I used 1 t)
1 1/2 t fresh thyme leaves (or 1 t dried)
4 fresh basil leaves, minced (or 1/2 t dried)
A few leaves of fresh oregano (1/2 t dried)
3-4 fresh spearmint leaves (1/4 t dried)
A few grinds of black pepper
A teensy-weensy, little-itty-bitty pinch (use your two pinky-fingers to do this) of ground allspice berries

3 1/2-4 C peeled and roughly-chopped fresh tomatoes (good-quality canned or home-canned works fine too)
salt to taste
2 medium-sized or 3-4 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 3/4″
1 C fresh green beans, chopped 3/4″ or other mild-flavoured green vegetable of your choice (chopped spinach or other greens work well)**
1/4 C pickled/brined capers

1)Eighteen ingredients…it sounds daunting, but it’s not- easy easy! Warm the oil and butter over med-low heat, add the garlic paste and saute for about 30 seconds.

2)Add the onions, celery and green peppers, raise the heat to med-high and saute until the onions turn translucent.

3)Add the aromatics, and stir, frying for about 1 minute.

4)Add the tomatoes and some salt; keep stirring until the juices are released- about 3-4 minutes.

5)Add the zucchini, green beans, and capers; stir well. Add a half-glass of water, if necessary, to bring the liquid nearer the top of the veggies, and bring to boil. Cover, lower heat way down and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring now and then.

6)Adjust salt and grind a bit more black pepper on top. Serve with bread, over pasta or with rice.

*If you would like to serve this as a chilled soup, replace the butter with more olive oil; thin the stew with more water. 

**Some people like to add ground meat or sliced sausages, browning it at the beginning with the garlic (reduce oil, omit butter), but my grandmother usually made it meatless, and often added small amounts of other seasonal vegetables. Just remember: the zucchini must be the star in this show! 🙂


Curious contenders for the starring role: Kalonji and Washiarla

A few people have mentioned the dish’s similarity to the French ratatouille. I did some reading in Wikipedia, and found that there are several, similar dishes across Europe: kapunata– Malta, caponata– Italy, pisto– Spain, lesco– Hungary, letscho– Germany… Though many of these are prepared with eggplant, there was mention of variants using zucchini or other summer squashes/young gourds.

These dishes, in turn, seem to repeat the much-loved combination of eggplant with tomatoes found throughout the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean, again with variants sometimes using young gourds instead of eggplant, apparantly descended from the Arabian musaqqaʿa




  1. bee said,

    what does ‘washiarla’ mean?

    Uh…well…a work-friend of mine owned her first and had named her Shadow, which, for me, is far too common a name for personal comfort. I decided to retain the “sh”…then, a fellow-comrade-in-creativeness and I were sitting in a gloomy basement-room mulling over “sh” words. There stood the washing-machine; “iarla” was then tacked on to make it sound Slavic. Trust me, she lives up to her eccentric name!

  2. Musical said,

    Lovely recipe, Pel. Me got zucchinis and will try this 🙂 Who’s Kalonji and who’s wahiarla, they both look cute

    =^.^= meow

    yes, and i second bee’s question :).

    Your wish is granted… the black one on the left is kalonji, of course. 🙂 Me recommends this recipe for your zucchinis then! 😀

  3. Suganya said,

    More like ‘stoup’ in Rachael Ray’s words :D. Can we get a better look at yr lovely felines?

    Oh, maybe sometime I’ll do a post with photos and little bios of the whole bunch… Stoup. Hehehehehehe i like that.

  4. Susan said,

    Who are the kitlings, Pel? This is the fourth comment on the felines. I think that does it; they ARE the stars, never mind contenders.

    Oh, and about the recipe…it does seem very Italian, but if the ingredient list was pared down and all freshly derived, it would pretty much be ratatouille. Nicely done.

    Thanks Susan! I’ve noticed the similarity before of ratatouille to this, but after you said that, I was FORCED 🙂 to educate myself in Wiki- fascinating! I added some info at the end of the post- I look forward to exploring some of these other, similar dishes.

    Kits, cats, sacks and wives…how many were going to St. Ives? 🙂 [screeches the tires] Pare down the ingredients! Blasphemy… 😀

  5. Anita said,

    This would be great with rice or roti as well – very much at home on the Indian table, I think. That is a lot of tomatoes – must be really piquant especially with home grown ones. Capers…must find out what these are…ker is sometimes known as Indian caper…

    Glad to see you give in to flippancy now and then…mostly you blow our minds away! But Kalonji is such a spicy name – does she live up to her name too? Intriguing spice…

    He is a brat! He likes to bully, harass and torment…and on the other hand, he’s very loving and friendly.

    I needed a simple dish for these days, as I’m fairly busy trying to pare down my posessions- not easy for a pack-rat! 😉 I’ll rebel soon enough with a more-complicated, time-consuming jewel of Moghlai cuisine I am sure.

    Capers…you can do some reading here if you like. I’m quite fond of the sour, pickled ones. You could substitute another un- or lightly-spiced vinegared pickle if you like. And I do think you would enjoy this dish!

  6. musical said,

    Yes, yes, i demand a full post on the meows 🙂

    Yeah, yeah, yeah… perhaps in autumn! 🙂

  7. saju said,

    Lovely recipe me, reminds me of ratatouille. Nice pics of the cats

    Thanks! Quite similar dish…

  8. Anita said,

    …and capers can be substituted with pickled unripe nasturtium seeds!!!!…says Wiki! That is one pickle decided for the winter then! I knew the leaves and flowers were edible, but even the seeds?! What a good earth food the nasturtium is! And my butterflies love to lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves, and when they hatch, the entire patch disappears in a week’s time!

    Sounds truly magical; are the caterpillars tasty too? hehehehehehehe

    Yeah…capers (there are two different kinds/sizes available here, but they’re the size of a green pea give or take. Two parts vinegar to one part water…. 😀

  9. Asha said,

    I am in love with Zucchinis too these days!:))
    Ahh!!!! Cat hairs in the dish!!:))

    I know what you mean; I’m a little obsessed with all the different young gourds at the markets, and waiting patiently for my own patty-pans to start producing!

    Eh…a little cat-hair is good for ya! 😀

  10. Jyothsna said,

    I’ve started liking zucchinis and that dish would compliment rice very well I think. Kalon”ji” is a cute name for a pet!

    Isn’t it though? Over time, it’s been shortened to “onji”…except if he’s misbehaving (frequently enough), then his full name comes out…I rue the day that someone quite familiar with the spice will pass by the house at such a moment!

    Oh, it’s very good with rice…nice gravy. 🙂

  11. Manisha said,

    Ooh! Yum! I think I would like it piping hot rather than chilled. Ground meat also sounds good!

    Your cats eat people food? Or you eat people food with cat saliva?

    Well, actually I just ran to the next room, came back and found them investigating! Sometimes I share, but not this stuff- all mine! 🙂

    Yeah, do give it a whirl…it’s easy, delicious; you could put ground-up-dead-animal flesh in there, but cooked chickpeas are even better! 😀

  12. outofthegarden said,

    What French, dear Pel… ratatouille as everyone knows, is a Cape Cod dish which inevitably appears around the middle of August, by which time zucchini grow so large that when you find a giant — one could hollow it out, take a seat and set sail to Martha’s Vineyard with little effort 😉

    I hate zucchini and tomato. But I do love this write up… your grandmother sounds like my nana 🙂

    And any post with kitties is a sure winner 🙂

    You hate zucchini and tomato eh? Pity. You made me think of something though…my other granny (jewelry-tree gran) took a trip to Cape Cod many years ago, and brought me a little “Cape Cod cookbook”…I ought crack it open huh? I suppose there would be a few French-derived dishes there… and are there giant carrot light-houses to warn the zucchini-boats of imminent doom? 😉

  13. musical said,

    Say my meows to the adorable cats 🙂

    Thank u Pel, the stew has been made and enjoyed with a parantha 😀

    Oh! Wow! Someone actually made one of my recipes?! I’m not used to that…one day, months ago I just sighed and said to myself, “Eh…entertainment for coffee-breaks…” 🙂 I’m glad you liked it…thought you might. 😉 And Happy Birthday!

  14. musical said,

    Pel, no, its not my B’day 😀 Wish me in January 😉 ofcourse with a cake (or better still rosemary pides) 😀

    Oh, it’s in January…it must be Manisha’s birthday soon then! I wonder how old she is now…

    A cake or rosemary pides, eh? Or…perhaps Rosemary-gorgonzola cheesecake? My sis makes these savory cheesecakes now and then when she caters; I’ll see if I can get her recipe.

  15. Manisha said,

    Hey musie! Why is everyone wishing you a Happy Birthday when it’s not your birthday? Oh, what the heck! Any excuse for a party. Even a non-reason. So Happy Birthday!

    That’s the spirit! A…very, very happy un-birthday…to you, and you! A very, very happy unbirthday…to us? to us. 😀 I think I better cut down on the coffee…

  16. musical said,

    Manisha, i agree 😀 Parties are welcome anytime 🙂

    Recipe for free dessert at a restaurant: have someone tell the waitress it’s someone’s birthday at the table- they’ll often bring out some cake on the house! Especially funny when the chosen person doesn’t know about it beforehand and the staff get together to sing the birthday song…..heeeheee

  17. Anita said,

    You know what – they’ve started singing the birthday song at Pizza Hut here as well! It is so un-Indian and completely embarrassing – I wouldn’t do it to anybody! To have a bunch of uniformed people gather round you and sing at the top of their voices! Everybody turns to stare!

    And on Manisha’s age – she’s going to be older for sure! 😉

    Ah…so her years, unlike mine, go up? 🙂 Yes, it is embarrassing…but fun, if it isn’t your (‘)birthday(‘) to watch; there’s nowhere to hide! 😀

  18. sharmi said,

    I have never tried much out of zucchini, this looks very nice.

    Not as good as your spinach pakoras, but close! 😉

  19. Manisha said,

    On my coffee break, therefore…
    Hey! You asked for it! 😉

    Anita, I guess if they can have an American accent without ever leaving India, why not adopt these trends, too?! 😆 I see desis posting pictures of cheese-laden pizzas and other American junk food on Flickr. They’d better watch out cos with it come obesity.

    I hate those uniformed birthday singing servers. But if we’re close to the birthday table, we join in and then wish the embarassed soul a Happy Birthday.

    My age? What about my age? I am obsolete. That’s how old I am.

    That’s old! Poor thing; soon it will all be khitchdi, saag, mashed taro-root, and oatmeal… 😦 Hopefully your pickle can be pureed for you as a treat now and then!

    That’s so sporting of you to join in with the chant. Next time I travel near the Great Divide we must visit Casa Bonita (Denver?)… hehehehehe Shane dragged me there so he could re-live childhood memories. [rolls eyes]

  20. Anita said,

    Manisha – you obsolete? Not in this life time! You are timeless – a classic! Happy Birthday to you! 😉 Soon enough.

    Yes…Happy Birthday to you…happy Birthday to you…Happy Birthday dear TLO….Ha- here put in your teeth and give us a big smile for the camera now- Happy Birthday to you….!

  21. Poonam said,

    I cannot believe that I have all the veggies at home that you have mentioned in this stew! In fact, I was thinking how I could use my zucchini in a different way because I have already used some zucchini in making ratatouille over the past weekend..Great recipe!

    Thanks! Hope you enjoy it- it’s simple really, but such a summertime dish!

  22. Anita said,

    Stewing away – without the capers though. Smelling like heaven already. 😀

    You almost had capers to go with that… 😦 But still, we never had them when I was growing up- they came later!

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