Whether shopping in your own garden or your neighbor’s, or at a farmers’ market, look for small vegetables for this. You want baby eggplant, either long Asian-style or smaller Italian globes, picked when the skin is still shiny and the interior seeds are still small. Skinny Italian frying peppers. Sweet garden onions with the green tops still attached. Thin-skinned cherry tomatoes and zucchini picked well before they explode. I’d avoid those tiny, bland “baby zucchini”; in my experience, zucchini doesn’t develop any personality until adolescence.
Confit is the French term for vegetables cooked in a long, slow, luxurious fat bath. This technique is kind of like a fluid transfusion: as the low heat pulls the vegetables’ natural juices into the sauce, they in turn draw the olive oil up into their veins. Arrange the vegetables artfully into a colorful mosaic after you’ve sautéed them all, because eventually they’ll become too tender to move, and take the cooking slow. After forty-five minutes, the vegetables will glaze over with exhaustion and be so tender that they can only be shaken in the pan, not stirred. The confit will look like an oil painting—so shiny and deep and saturated that it can’t absorb another drop.
Don’t let the amount of olive oil scare you off; you can skim it off where it pools at the edges if it feels like too much, but it will function as a preservative if you make this in advance, or store leftovers in the fridge. It keeps for at least a week, getting better by the day. And when you find yourself rushing out the door with a few cold slices of eggplant and pepper riding on a slice of hot toast, the oil dripping down into the gaping bread holes, I truly doubt you’ll regret a single teaspoon.
Serves 6 generously as a main, or 10 as a side
2 medium globe or 3 Asian-type eggplants (1 pound)
2 medium zucchini (about 14 ounces)
5 sweet or semi-hot frying peppers (about 6 ounces)
2 spring onions, greens trimmed
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for the initial vegetable cooking
Freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1½ teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon honey
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
If the eggplants are the globe type, cut them into quarters and then again into eighths; if they’re the long Asian type, halve lengthwise and then cut crosswise into long bats. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters. Halve the peppers if they’re larger than a kid’s fist. Quarter the onions.
Heat an extra-large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add a thin layer of the olive oil. Quickly brown the surfaces of the vegetables in batches (they’ll cook to tenderness later), seasoning them with salt and pepper just before putting them in the hot pan: first the eggplant, then the zucchini and the peppers, and then the onions. Don’t crowd them, or they’ll steam instead of sauté, and add a bit more oil if needed. Transfer the browned vegetables to a sheet tray.
Add the remaining olive oil, the garlic, and rosemary to the pan and cook briefly, just to take the bite out of the garlic, then add all of the sauteéd vegetables, nestling them into a nice formation, and drop the cherry tomatoes over the top. Season the vegetables with the ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste, then stir together the water and honey in a small dish and drizzle it over the vegetables. Tuck in the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and bring everything to a simmer. Cook the vegetables until juices begin to accumulate, about 5 minutes, then tip the pan and baste the vegetables with a large spoon.
Cover the surface of the vegetables with a circular lid of parchment paper cut to fit the diameter of the pan, to trap in the flavor and moisture. Transfer the vegetables to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, stopping halfway through to baste the vegetables again. Remove the paper cover, baste the vegetables with the juices again, and bake, uncovered, for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the liquid clings thickly to the vegetables and the exposed surfaces begin to burnish.
Remove from the oven and let settle and cool before serving, right from the pan.
Excerpted from COMPANY: The Radically Casual Art of Cooking for Others by Amy Thielen. Copyright © 2023 by Amy Thielen. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved
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