As a child living in the idyllic village of Caldogno, I had no idea how much work it was to fill the cupboard with jars of peperonata.. In the last part of September my mother would take a trip to the local market to buy the best sweet peppers the late summer had to offer. Coming home from school, I would enter the kitchen, only to find it absolutely filled with wooden crates of yellow and red peppers The countertops were covered with glass jars, while cast-iron skillets of sliced yellow and red peppers simmered in olive oil and garlic. A day or so later the crates were emptied and the glass jars were filled with colorful stewed peppers. My mother intended the efforts of her labor to keep for a while. But her jars of peperonata simply didn’t last that long. Everyone in my family loved them.
Peperonata is a stewed pepper dish prevalent in the southern regions of Italy. As with many traditional dishes, opinions vary on how to make it. Some make peperonata exclusively with ripe yellow or red peppers, some with a mix of both. Others add onions and tomato to the stew. In the Veneto zucchini and even eggplant may be added. Although the dish is then similar and equal to the French ratatouille, it is nevertheless called ‘peperonata’. The following recipe is authentic to my mother’s tradition, which she in turn learned from a great friend while residing in Caldogno a very long time ago. I sometimes add pan-grilled cherry tomatoes to the dish at the table. The peppers keep their flavor best when prepared without tomatoes or onions. The quantities mentioned can easily be doubled or tripled to fill the desired number of glass jars.
- four red bell or Italian sweet peppers
- four yellow bell or Italian sweet peppers
- two cloves of garlic
- 90-120 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- 30 grams of red wine vinegar or
- honey wine vinegar
- two sprigs of fresh oregano
- a pinch of finely ground Himalaya salt or sea salt
Wash the bell peppers in a bowl of cool water. Cut around the stem with a knife and then in half. Remove the seeds and the white pith from the peppers as both are bitter and slice them in thin, equal-sized ribbons. Peel the garlic cloves. Drizzle 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil into a heavy-bottomed skillet at medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and allow them to sizzle around the edges before adding the sliced peppers.
Cook the peppers at medium heat for fifteen minutes without stirring. Braise the peppers in their own juices at an even pace for twenty minutes, adjusting the heat and adding some olive oil if necessary. Once the peppers have cooked down to half their original volume, add a splash of vinegar and leave them to cook just five more minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the dish to cool. Meanwhile, pick the leaves of fresh oregano and stir them through the peppers.
This simple dish can now carry the name “peperonata”. It can be served immediately but I prefer it a day or two later. This is why once the peppers have cooled, I catch all the olive oil and lovely pepper juices along with the stewed peppers in a glass jar and put them in the refrigerator to mellow To add some sweetness to my peperonata, I sometimes make pan-grilled cherry tomatoes as explained below.
Ingredients for pan-grilled cherry tomatoes
- twenty ripe cherry tomatoes
- a pinch of sea salt and one sprig of fresh rosemary or rosemary salt
While the peppers are stewing on the stove, heat the grill pan on high heat. Wash and cut the cherry tomatoes in halves. Pick the leaves of fresh rosemary and chop them finely, or Brush the grill pan with olive oil and sprinkle it with rosemary and salt. Arrange the tomatoes cut side down in the pan, grilling them for 15 minutes. Carefully turn them over with a spoon and grill them skin side down for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat. Remove the cherry tomatoes from the pan and arrange them on a plate to serve with the peperonata.
Serve the peperonata and pan-grilled tomatoes as an appetizer with a slice of thickly sliced sourdough bread
Add some lemon and orange zest for extra color and flavor.
Serve a spoon of the stewed peppers in lettuce leaves and arrange them on a platter with thinly sliced anchovies.
Save the cherry tomatoes for a salad by putting them in a jar with some fresh basil and the slightest amount of olive oil. They will keep for five days, and are handy when receiving unexpected guests.
Italian sweet peppers have a long, narrow shape with a thin skin. They are sweeter than bell peppers. In Italy peppers are abundantly available in the colors yellow and red, and overflow market stalls throughout the country. The type of pepper is also called a “capsicum” pepper.
The bell pepper is widely available outside of Italy. It is less sweet than its Italian counterpart. It is available in many interesting colors such as orange, purple and brown. The standard yellow, red and green are cultivated in the Netherlands throughout the year and exported throughout Europe. In Italy bell peppers are called “peperoni Olandesi”, which literally translates as “Dutch peppers”.
Sweet peppers are either grilled or stewed. Hot spicy peppers called “peperoncino” in Italian, are the only kind of pepper that is cooked along with fresh tomato in the traditional Italian kitchen. The most famous example of spicy pepper and tomato combined is in the sauce called “pomodoro all’arrabbiata” — literally translated as “angry tomato” sauce.