Friday, 18 May 2012


Nearly the end of May and the weather is still so erratic that my cooking is veering between winter comfort food one day and lighter summer dishes the next. Peperonata falls into both camps.

This Italian dish is usually served as an antipasto, but it works just as well as main dish in itself or as an accompaniment to some grilled fish or meat of some sort. The classic version usually has tomatoes and garlic in it and some recipes have a list of ingredients as long as your arm. My preference is to keep it simple - no tomatoes, no garlic, just letting the sweetness of the peppers speak for themselves.

This takes just 5 minutes to prepare and makes enough for one very generous portion (depending on the size of the peppers) or two smaller ones. Like a lot of slow-cooked dishes, this tastes just as good if not better when reheated the next day.

What you need:
3 peppers
1 onion
Olive oil
What to do: 
Halve the peeled onion and slice it thinly. Pour a very generous glug of olive oil into a heavy sauteuse and sauté the onion over a medium heat until it turns translucent. While the onion is cooking, deseed the peppers, remove any white pith inside, halve them vertically and slice thinly.

Add the peppers to the pan and stir them through thoroughly so they are completely coated in oil. Leave them to cook down over a low heat for about an hour. Stir them once in a while so they cook evenly and put a lid on halfway through to generate some juices. Season to taste at the end.

Cook's tips: 
Like ratatouille, peperonata should be lush and unctuous, never watery.  Plenty of oil and a low heat (gas/electric 2 or 3 depending on your hob) are essential, as is time. Cook it too quickly on a higher heat and the water will leach out, the peppers will break down too fast and you'll end up with a soggy mess.

The peppers need to be very ripe to maximise their natural sweetness, but they should still have smooth, wrinkle-free skins. The Italians use red peppers throughout but I like to mix it up with different colours - those trio packs of red, green and yellow or orange peppers produce lovely colours as well different levels of sweetness.

You can add a small pinch of sugar to boost the sweetness if you wish. A bayleaf tucked in will add a little savoury depth, as will a small sprig of lemon thyme. You could also add a few torn fresh basil leaves at the end. But, really, this is not a dish for mucking around with - simple is best.