Peperonata!

Five years ago, I posted this picture on Facebook of peppers I had just harvested from my backyard garden.

Within minutes of posting it, I received a message from a Sicilian friend living in Germany, Francesco Strazzanti, with the following message, “Peperonata!”

Francesco is a fantastic cook; so when he talks, I listen. I had never heard of peperonata. When I Googled it and learned it was a stew made with sweet bell peppers (“peperoni” in Italian), onions, and tomatoes, I realized I knew exactly what peperonata was — I just never knew the dish had a name.

There are many ways to make this dish, just like there are many ways to make
sausage with peppers and onions,

marinara sauce,

or chicken cacciatore,

The core ingredients are all pretty much the same, a variation of vegetables typically grown in a summer Italian kitchen garden: tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, basil, and parsley. These are MY VEGGIES!  I garden just to watch these beauties grow and then to have a quiet kitchen in which to prepare them in delicious and creative ways. The bonus is the connection I feel to my mother and grandmothers when I make their recipes.

Peperonata! 

Peperonata is the kind of dish you could make a big batch of every week and have in the fridge to use as you plan meals.

You could serve it over pasta for dinner or as a side dish alongside grilled sausages or chicken.

You could serve it over a slice of crusty bread with melted mozzarella or goat cheese for lunch.

Or, you could serve it scrambled with eggs for breakfast. This last way was one of my favorite foods to eat when I was a teenager. My grandmother in Baltimore used to make it for me all the time. She scrambled the eggs in olive oil and stirred in the peperonata at the end. Yum.

Yield: 8 cups

Ingredients:

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¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, about 3 cups cleaned and sliced
3 pounds bell pepper, about 10 medium-sized, or 10 cups cleaned and sliced.
1 level tablespoon chopped garlic, about 4 or 5 cloves
2 pounds juicy, ripe, tasty, tomatoes, or 4 cups cleaned and rough-chopped.
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or the leaves from about 6-8 sprigs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, or the leaves from two stems
1 heaping tablespoon chopped mint, or the leaves of one long stem
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice,  or about ½ lemon squeezed
1 heaping tablespoon plain Greek yogurt (optional – swirl in before serving if desired)

Mise en Place:

To prep the peppers: cut in half and scoop out the stem, seeds and white pith. Chop into slices or chunks. I leave the skin on. Note: red sweet peppers make for a pretty sauce if you have a choice when buying the peppers.

 

To prep the tomatoes: cut in half horizontally, use your index finger to scoop out the seeds. Remove the stem and core and cut into two-inch chunks. I leave the skin on because the heirloom tomatoes I use (called Cherokee Purples) are thin-skinned.

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To prep the onions: remove the papery skin and white core at the base. Slice into slivers.

Instructions:
Warm olive oil in a 6-quart pan. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent.

Add peppers and garlic and sauté for 10   minutes, covered, on medium-low heat until soft. Stir about every 5 minutes. Do not brown peppers.

Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper, cover and sauté for 5 minutes on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Stir in herbs. Cover, cut off heat and let sit for about an hour to finish cooking. Stir in the honey, lemon, and yogurt. Add more salt to taste. I like to add ¼ teaspoon at a time until that moment when the salt brings out the best in all the flavors. Francesco is the one who encouraged me to add the lemon, honey, mint, and yogurt. He was spot on. They boosted the depth of flavor wonderfully.

P.S. It gets better every day!

How about Italian cookies for dessert?

Sesame Seed

Lemon and Ricotta

Always check the website for the most current version of a recipe. Thanks!

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Italian Sesame Seed Cookies

When a cookie can transport me back to a summer afternoon in the jalousie-windowed sunporch of my grandmother’s house, complete with a tableful of visiting Italian relatives sipping coffee, that’s a pretty powerful cookie.

Such was the case when, after many attempts, I came up with a recipe for these Italian Sesame Seed Cookies. When I finally got it right, I fixed a cup of coffee and dunked the cookie in; the ultimate taste test. The taste was just as I remembered: light, buttery, nutty, and slightly crunchy, all of it made even more flavorful by the milky coffee. I didn’t normally drink coffee as a young girl, but when the sesame seed cookies were out, my grandmother always gave me a cup so I could dunk with everyone else. Heaven on Earth. Addictive, too!.

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds come from the fruit pod of the sesame plant. The plant is an annual, and the pod grows very similarly to okra (photo on the right).

 

Once the pods dry, they are turned upside down allowing the seeds to fall out. Here is a photo of the unhulled seeds and dried pods.

When baking with sesame seeds, use hulled, untoasted seeds. I purchase them at the Indian grocery store, Patel Brothers, or from the bulk dispenser at Whole Foods. You need about two cups, so it’s best to purchase in bulk rather than in small cans.

   

Life for many seeds and nuts laden with oils, sesame seeds become rancid when sitting in a cupboard for a long period of time. Thus, if you are not going to finish the package soon after opening it, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. A rancid nut or seed can quickly ruin any savory or sweet dish. Often, you can tell if the seeds or nuts are rancid simply by the smell. Even without a rancid smell, I do a taste test to be sure.

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½-2 cups untoasted sesame seeds
⅔ cup milk

Mise en Place:

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter in a mixing bowl on medium speed for about one minute. Add the sugar and cream for another minute until batter is light and fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix one more minute, still on medium speed.

Combine baking powder, salt, and flour in a bowl and stir with a wire whisk.

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Add dry ingredients to batter. Mix on slow for 30 seconds. Do not overwork the dough.

Spread flour on countertop and fold dough over on itself about ten times.

Divide dough into four equal sections.

Roll each section into ¾-inch thick ropes and slice those into two-inch pieces. My relatives would pull off a clump of dough and roll each cookie into a small oval log, but I like to do it this way because there is less handling of the dough.

Set-up two wide-mouthed bowls, one with milk and one with sesame seeds. Put about a cup of milk in one and 1½ cups of sesame seeds in the other. Pick up about 5 pieces of dough and put them in the milk. Then lift each piece of dough and roll it in the bowl of sesame seeds.

 

Arrange dough on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until cookies become lightly browned. Let cool five minutes and then move cookies to a cooling rack.

Other Italian Faves:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Chicken Cacciatora, or Hunter’s Chicken
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Fettuccini with Rapini (aka Broccoli Rabe) and Garlic
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Roasted Ratatouille
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.