May 09, 2010

Italy in a Dish: Peperoni all Siciliana

There are certain dishes that capture the essence of a place in one single bite. This amazing dish is Italy: flavourful, versatile and with a very few good quality ingredients. The slow cooking brings out and melds the Mediterranean flavours to perfection. This dish keeps beautifully for several days in the fridge.

I try to grill a whole bushel of red peppers in the fall and freeze them in small packets, to have ready whenever I need grilled peppers. If you use jarred or canned grilled peppers, take into account that the peppers tend to be much softer. You may need to adjust cooking times accordingly, and the results will not be as spectacular.

Peperoni alla Siciliana
adapted from Good Tempered Food by Tamasin Day-Lewis

Serves 4-6 as an appetiser, or use it alongside your favourite grilled meats or robust fish dishes.  Better yet, make it the star of an antipasti spread, with salumi, Italian cheese and olives alongside crusty bread and a great Chianti.

5 red peppers
1 onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp water
1 small vegetable bouillon cube, dissolved in 2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
Small bunch fresh oregano, stems removed, chopped
24 small glossy black olives (Ligurian if you can find them)
2 anchovy fillets (packed in olive oil)
2 tbsp capers, rinsed

1. Grill or char the red peppers. Preheat the broiler. Line a broiler pan with tin foil that been sprayed with non stick spray (or lightly coated with olive oil). Halve the peppers lengthwise, remove the seeds, and broil 3 inches from the heat, turning with tongs once the first side is charred and blackened. Put the charred peppers in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let them cool. Peel the skins, and cut the peppers into long strips.

(Alternatively, you can put peppers on their sides on the gas burners of your cooktop, and turn flames on moderately high. Roast, turning frequently with tongs, until skins are blackened, 5 to 8 minutes. Proceed as above).

2. Cook the onion, garlic and olive oil gently in a covered pan, with a pinch of salt and the water. Stir occasionally and cook until the onion is softened to a puree. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the onion is golden. This step will take about 40-50 minutes in total.

3. Add the peppers, the bouillon cube and balsamic vinegar, and cook for a further 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the remaining ingredients and cook for an additional 20 minutes at very low heat.

Salt cured anchovies are preferred by some.  If you use anchovies in olive oil, try to find Ortiz brand anchovies (I haven't been able to find them here in Toronto)

Oregano is a perennial herb, so if you have a sunny spot in the garden, grow some! 

5. Serve warm or at room temperature, with grilled or crusty bread to soak up the delicious flavours.