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 my Sicilian friend Francesco Strazzanti, with the following message, “Peperonata!”
Francesco is a fantastic cook; 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, onions, and tomatoes, I realized I knew exactly what peperonata was — I just never knew it had a name.
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 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
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.
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or the leaves from about 8 stems
¼ cup chopped fresh basil or the leaves from about 6 stems
2 tablespoons fresh mint or the leaves of 4 long stems
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or juice from ½ lemon
¼ – ½ cup plain Greek yogurt swirled in just before serving
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.
To prep the onions: remove the papery skin and white core at the base. Slice into slivers.
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 lemon, honey, mint, and yogurt. He was spot on. They boosted the depth of flavor magnificently.
P.S. It gets better every day!
How about Italian cookies for dessert?
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