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.

My Favorite Gazpacho

I returned from a week-long trip to find my vegetable garden laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, green bell peppers, and okra. I brought all the produce inside, dumped it on the kitchen counter and tried to get inspired to clean and prep all of it; I knew once I got started, I’d be in the kitchen for the rest of the day … A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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Abundant summer harvests call for big recipes, and I have three go-to’s: ratatouille, gazpacho, and marinara sauce. Since there were no eggplants or zucchini, ratatouille was out. Gazpacho and marinara sauce were in. I made both!

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My tried and true gazpacho recipe comes from Open-House Cookbook, by Sarah Leah Chase, published in 1987 to instant acclaim. Over the years, I have found my own way to streamline the vegetable prep work, and, thanks to my mother, who also made this recipe and used Bloody Mary mix to spice it up, I use spicy vegetable juice instead of plain.

Ingredients:
Makes 6 quarts

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2 cups of freshly made breadcrumbs made from crusty bread
1-ounce garlic cloves, about 3-5 cloves depending on size
Juice of one lemon, about 3 tablespoons
2 bunches green onions
3  8 inch cucumbers
5 sweet bell peppers in different colors (I like to use green, yellow and orange)
8 pounds of tomatoes, about 10 large
46 ounces spicy vegetable juice
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin, first cold-pressed, olive oil
4 teaspoons sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper, add more as desired

Instructions:
In the instructions that follow, I’m going to show you how to prep each vegetable. Find a large bowl that will hold 8 quarts of chopped vegetables.

1) Prep Bread, Garlic, and Lemon Juice Mixture: 
-Make 2 cups of homemade breadcrumbs using the method described in Mom’s Meatloaf. Five or six slices of crusty bread should suffice.
-Juice the lemon as shown in the Ricotta and Lemon Cookie recipe.
-Peel the garlic cloves. I used three large cloves. If you are using medium to small cloves, you’ll need all five.  Always remember that uncooked garlic can quickly overpower a recipe, so be careful — you can always add more garlic to your recipe later as you adjust your spices.

Pulse garlic cloves in food processor until minced, add the breadcrumbs and lemon juice. You want the mixture to become pasty, so process it for about 10 seconds.

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2) Prep green onions:
Wash, cut roots off and trim off the top third of stems. Chop stems into 2-inch segments so they will fit nicely into the food processor bowl. If you put produce in the processing bowl uncut, they won’t chop evenly, and you’ll find yourself practically puréeing food to get everything chopped to a consistent size. Pulse green onions until they look like the photo below and then add to your large container.

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3) Prep Cucumbers:
Cut off ends and peel. Cut into long quarters. I always taste a homegrown cucumber before adding it to a recipe because sometimes, if the cucumber went through a dry spell while growing, it can taste bitter. If the cucumber tastes at all bitter, throw it in the compost. Remove seeds by quartering and using a paring knife to remove the “triangle” tip of seeds from each strip. Chop into 2-inch chunks before processing. Once processed, add to large container.

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4) Prep Sweet Bell Peppers:
I had a lot of small green peppers in my garden and used them, plus two colorful peppers I bought at the grocery store. To prep peppers: cut in half vertically, and remove core, seeds, and extra white pith. Chop into 2-inch chunks for even processing in the food processor. Add to the large container.

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5) How to Seed and Prep Tomatoes:
Over the years, I have learned there is no reason to peel the skin off tomatoes. I do, however, remove the seeds. This is easily accomplished by cutting the tomato in half horizontally and using your finger to scoop the seeds out.

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Use a paring knife to remove the stem and white core. Cut into 2″ chunks to process evenly. Pulse in batches. Add to the large container. If you are using homegrown tomatoes, don’t use any that have been pecked by birds or otherwise have skin that is not intact. Save imperfect tomatoes for cooking.  Tomatoes with white mold, ooze, or that have been partially eaten by squirrels go in the compost! (That last sentence is for my husband.)

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Photos of the bowl as it filled up …

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Food, Glorious Food!

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6) Add Vegetable Juice and Seasonings
Add the spicy vegetable juice, the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning.
Me, to my husband: “Try this and tell me what it needs.”
Husband: “It needs a spoon and a bowl!”DSC_0011

Much later that day, after making marinara sauce and blanched string beans in vinaigrette, the kitchen was clean. All that remained was a pile of cucumbers that were going to be made into cold cucumber soup, but I ran out of steam, and my family had lost interest in cleaning up after me. Oh, and the okra, it went into the latest version of my “everything, but the kitchen sink” Shepherd’s Pie.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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

Roasted Ratatouille

Last week, I was getting ready to leave town which meant I had to harvest all the ripe vegetables from my garden. Once I had washed and laid them all out to dry there was no question what dish I was going to make; these vegetables pretty much told me I was making ratatouille. What else would I do with onions, eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers, and tomatoes? These are classic ratatouille fare.

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Many villages in the Mediterranean have some version of this “vegetable stew,” but it was Julia Child, who, in her 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, made ratatouille a household name. If you are a purist, you may want to stop reading here as I no longer make ratatouille using the methods that Julia made famous.  I don’t peel and remove the seeds from the tomatoes, sweat the eggplants and zucchini and then sauté them each separately, and then, layer them all together in a casserole to stew for a while. Her process took too much time. The way I chop, mix, and roast it all together, is much quicker and more reflective of today’s farm to table mentality. I think Julia would approve.

Since I had a lot to do before leaving town, I was in get’ er done mode and was happy to work by myself in the kitchen. My family was watching a Nicole Kidman movie in the next room and I smiled as I listened to them tease my husband about his long-standing crush on Nicole, an infatuation that makes no sense to me; she is like a porcelain doll and I am not. My family knows my husband would secretly love to run into Nicole in Nashville. Once, my youngest son even texted him, “Quick, come to Whole Foods. I’m sitting next to Nicole and Keith.” To my husband’s credit, and since he was sitting with me, he didn’t budge.

Here is my no fuss way to make ratatouille. The ingredient amounts are vague because it truly doesn’t matter. I suggest looking at the picture above and approximating the quantities from that.

Yield: About 4 quarts

Ingredients:

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Onions – I used one bunch of green onions and a medium-sized red onion
Eggplants – I used a mix of Black Beauty and Ichiban varieties.
Zucchini – I used 4 thick ones.
2 large Sweet Bell Peppers
Tomatoes – I used an assortment of regular and cherry-sized.
Basil – I used 4 ten-inch bushy stalks.
Garlic – I used 2 heaping tablespoons of minced garlic from the jar.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, about 1/2 cup, maybe even a little more
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Instructions:

I prepped all the vegetables as I went along. Refer to the pictures that follow to see how. I placed them in a 13 x 16 inch Calphalon roasting pan that’s about 4 inches deep. The order of layering doesn’t matter as they will all be stirred together before going into the oven.

Zucchini: leave the skin on and slice.

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Sweet Bell Peppers: remove core and seeds, chop into 1.5-inch dice.DSC_0605

Green Onions: slice the white part into 1/2 slices, and the green stalks into 1-inch pieces.

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Eggplant: remove ends, peel, and slice.

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Tomatoes: remove the stem and white core, and chop as shown. No need to peel or remove seeds.

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Prep basil: remove leaves from stems and chop. Add to roasting pan.DSC_0293  DSC_0633

Mix it all up. Add olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I am usually generous with the olive oil. I learned that from my mother.

Roast at 400º for 40 minutes to an hour depending on the volume of vegetables used.

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To Serve:
I’ll put just about any roasted vegetable over pasta and the ratatouille was no exception. It was delicious. Be sure to sprinkle with Reggiano Parmesan.

I had about 2½ quarts of leftovers that went into the fridge. My husband served it over orzo as a side dish the next night, and on Saturday morning, he put what was left in his omelette.

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Epilogue: 
My family loved this meal. As we ate dinner, one of my sons said, “Nicole Kidman couldn’t have made this dinner, Mom.”  Thanks, son.

Make it Whole30
Skip the pasta and cheese and serve it as a side dish.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

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