Pisto is a super healthy and easy vegetable dish from Spain, sometimes called Spanish ratatouille. Pisto can be served as a main dish, side dish or tapa and is the perfect way to enjoy fresh seasonal summer vegetables.
Where do they eat pisto?
Pisto is eaten throughout Spain and each region (and family) has a slightly different variation on the dish.
The two most well-known variations are pisto manchego and pisto murciano, named for the regions in which they originated.
The essential ingredients for all types of Spanish pisto are onion, tomatoes, red and/or green peppers and olive oil.
After that, pisto manchego adds zucchini while pisto murciano calls for eggplant.
That said, many recipes for pisto call for both eggplant and zucchini. It’s really up to you and whatever vegetables you have available.
Pisto from the region of Aragón also includes potatoes, and pisto from La Rioja has a creamy texture from adding beaten egg.
You’ll often see pisto served with an egg on top, though this is not obligatory in any version of pisto and if omitted, pisto is a wonderful vegan dish.
Ratatouille vs. pisto
Pisto is often called Spanish ratatouille because the two dishes are quite similar and ratatouille is more well-known worldwide.
Both pisto and ratatouille are basically stewed vegetables. They’re usually made in the summertime and feature seasonal vegetables like peppers, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes.
The principal difference is the size to which the vegetables are cut. Pisto requires the vegetables to be small diced, less that 1 cm, whereas ratatouille cuts the vegetables a bit chunkier.
Some recipes for ratatouille advise cooking the vegetables separately, removing each one from the pan, and combining them at the end. This is usually done in order to brown the eggplant for texture and flavour.
Pisto, on the other hand, cooks all the vegetables together as the idea is to have them break down slightly and meld together.
(A lot of English-language pisto recipes get this wrong and call for cooking the vegetables separately. I went through every Spanish-language pisto recipe on the first two pages of Google and none of them do it that way).
Pisto often doesn’t use any herbs or seasonings besides salt and pepper. However, a lot of people (like me) add smoked paprika and some variations call for a pinch of cumin. You wouldn’t find these spices in ratatouille.
Ingredients you’ll need
Olive oil: The vegetables are poached in a base of olive oil and their own juices.
Onion: A regular white or brown onion. No need for anything special here.
Red and/or green peppers: Pisto is usually made with a combination of both red and green peppers. If you only have one kind, that’s fine. Typically in Spain we don’t use green bell peppers but rather Italian frying peppers, also known as cubanelle. Using a cubanelle will be more authentic, but just use a green bell pepper if you can’t find cubanelles.
Zucchini: A regular green zucchini. This recipe is great if you have an abundance of zucchini in your garden!
Eggplant: A purple eggplant. You can also substitute the eggplant for more zucchini or vice versa if you don’t want to use both zucchini and eggplant.
Garlic: I call for 3 cloves in this recipe but feel free to add more if you’re a garlic lover! Pisto is a dish that can handle a lot of garlic.
Tomatoes: Choose a fleshy variety such as Roma or beefsteak. The tomatoes need to break down into a thick sauce so watery greenhouse tomatoes. I suggest peeling the tomatoes to help them break down and avoid chewing on bits of the skins. If you don’t have good-quality tomatoes, you can use passata or even whole canned tomatoes.
Smoked paprika: A good quality Spanish smoked paprika is worth it. There are two types; sweet and spicy. Pisto isn’t meant to be spicy to use the sweet type of smoked paprika.
Salt and pepper: to season and bring all the flavours together.
How to make pisto
Pisto is an easy one pot meal although it takes a bit of time. The vegetables are cooked slowly over low heat to allow them to stew and bring out all the flavours.
1. Preparation: Since pisto cooks slowly, you don’t need to chop all the vegetables before starting. First to go into the pot are the onion, peppers and garlic so dice those up first.
As mentioned previously, the difference between ratatouille and pisto is how small the vegetables are cut. For pisto, very finely chop the onion and dice all the vegetables very small (between 0.5 and 1 cm), except the tomatoes.
I recommend peeling the tomatoes. If they’re fresh, you can sometimes just peel the skin right off. If not, you’ll need to blanch them in hot water so place a medium-sized pot of water on to boil.
2. Onions, peppers, garlic: Start by heating ¼ cup of olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, peppers and garlic along with a pinch of the salt. Stir it well and cover the pot with its lid.
Allow the vegetables to stew, stirring from time to time, until very soft - about 15 minutes.
You don’t want the vegetables to fry so if you notice the onions starting to brown, lower the heat.
While they’re cooking, go ahead and dice up the zucchini and eggplant.
3. Zucchini and eggplant: Add the diced zucchini, eggplant and another pinch of salt to the pot. Give everything a good stir and re-cover the pot.
Allow the veggies to stew, stirring from time to time, until very soft.
The vegetables should release a lot of juices. If you notice the pot getting dry and the vegetables start to stick to the bottom, you can add another drizzle of olive oil.
After about 15 minutes, the eggplant and zucchini should be very soft.
While the veggies are cooking, cut a small cross in the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the pot of boiling water for 1 - 2 minutes, or until you notice the skin cracking.
Remove the tomatoes to the sink and run some cool water over them. Peel off the skin, cut out the core and roughly chop them. The tomatoes will break down so you don’t need to dice them super small like the other veggies.
4. Tomatoes: Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot and re-cover it.
Allow them to simmer for about 10 minutes. Once the tomatoes are softened, I like to use the end of my wooden spoon to smash them down into a sauce.
5. Season: Finally add the paprika, remaining salt and a good grind of pepper.
Allow the pisto to simmer for another couple of minutes to blend the flavours.
Remove the pot from the heat and let it rest and cool a bit. Pisto can be served warm, room temperature or cold.
Variations and substitutions
Depending of the type of pisto, it is often made with either zucchini or eggplant. I like to use both but if you don’t like or don’t have one of those vegetables, simply substitute it for an equal quantity of the vegetable that you do have.
I like the smokiness that paprika adds but not every pisto recipe calls for it. Feel free to leave it out if you don’t want it.
Conversely, some recipes call for cumin. You can add a pinch of cumin at the end of cooking, if desired.
If using canned instead of fresh tomatoes, it’s usual to add a pinch of sugar to offset the sourness of the canned tomatoes. If using garden-fresh tomatoes, the sugar isn’t necessary.
Pisto is a vegan dish of stewed vegetables. Some people serve pisto with a poached or fried egg on top. However, this is optional and most Spanish recipes do not call for egg.
I have never seen a Spanish pisto recipe calling for cheese. My husband is Spanish and he has never heard of putting cheese on pisto. It’s possible that in some regions/families in Spain they add cheese but this seems to be more popular amongst American recipe bloggers than actual Spaniards.
No, pisto is not spicy. Authentic Spanish pisto recipes do not call for hot peppers, chili powder, or hot paprika.
Make ahead and storage tips
Pisto can be made ahead since it can be served hot, warm or cold. It is easy to reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Store cooked pisto in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 - 4 days.
You can freeze Pisto for up to 4 months but the texture of the vegetables may become softer upon reheating.
How to serve pisto
Our favourite way to serve pisto is with crusty bread or a baguette for scooping it up.
Pisto can be served warm or cold as a tapa, as a side dish to accompany a main or as a starter.
Pisto can also be used as a filling for sandwiches, as a sauce for pasta, or a filling for crepes or empanadas.
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt or as needed
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- ¾ cup (100 grams) finely diced green pepper
- ¾ cup (100 grams) finely diced red pepper
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup (125 grams) finely diced zucchini
- 1 cup (100 grams) finely diced eggplant
- 4 medium tomatoes ideally a paste variety like Roma or beefsteak
- ½ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
- A few grinds of pepper
- All the vegetables (except the tomatoes) should be diced in 0.5 - 1 cm cubes.
- In a large pot with a lid heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.
- Add the onion, red and green peppers, garlic and a pinch of the salt. Stir well, cover the pot and allow to stew, stirring from time to time, until tender - about 15 minutes.
- Be careful to not brown the vegetables. Reduce the heat if they appear to be frying rather than poaching.
- Meanwhile, I recommend removing the skins of the tomatoes. Heat a small pot of water until boiling. Cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato. Simmer the tomatoes until the skin cracks - about 2 minutes. Remove and let cool before peeling off the skins, then roughly chop them.
- When the onions and peppers are soft, add the zucchini, eggplant, and another pinch of the salt. Re-cover the pot and allow to stew until very tender, stirring from time to time - about 15 minutes.
- If the veggies are sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a drizzle more of olive oil.
- When the eggplant and zucchini are tender, add the tomatoes. Cover the pot and simmer for about 10 minutes. Use your spoon to break up the tomatoes to make a sauce-like consistency.
- Add the paprika, any remaining salt and a few grinds of pepper. Allow to simmer for another couple of minutes before removing from the heat. Let cool a bit - about 15 to 20 minutes - to allow the flavours to meld.