One of the benefits of having an Italian for a partner is knowing his Mamma. Michael’s mother, Tina, was born and bred in Naples, and as every Neapolitan knows, you haven’t been to Italy if you haven’t been to Naples. Or is it that Naples is its own little world, apart from Italy?
I’ve learned quite a lot about Italian cuisine since meeting Michael, and, full disclosure, I love everything about Italian food. I love how it changes drastically from region to region depending on available ingredients. I love how fresh foods are embraced and (for the most part) processed foods are still foreign and uncommon. I love how they use everything — snout to tail, seed to flower, nose to fin. The variety in ingredients is as staggering as the skill with which those ingredients are prepared.
I could actively study Italian cuisine for years and still find some undiscovered magic tucked away in some delicious dish.
That being said, this is a very simple dish to make. Roasted red peppers, delicious but common. Yes, I thought so too, until Tina told me that the secret for gently evoking the fragrance and flavor of the peppers is to roast them whole which preserves their moisture, and allowing them to rest in a bowl which catches their natural oils.
I try to roast them regularly for a near-constant supply, and during any given week they can easily be the most delicious thing I make.
Now, because bell peppers are third on the “Dirty Dozen” list — the worst pesticide laden fruits and vegetables as determined by The Environmental Working Group, try to buy organic peppers. They will be peeled, however heat concentrates pesticide poisons which can be absorbed through the porous pepper skin. Alternatively, scrub those peppers with a little warm, soapy water.
Dry them well, then lay them on a baking sheet. Heat your oven fully on broil (mine heats to 550F/285C), then slide them in. Don’t worry about using cooking oil — the peppers will naturally release quite a lot.
Allow them to blacken evenly on all sides, turning at regular intervals. The skin will blacken completely while preserving the flesh below, so don’t worry that you’re burning them.
Once they’re blackened and a little deflated, take them out and allow them to cool in a bowl, catching those delicious, fragrant oils and juices.
While they’re cooling, finely mince 3-4 cloves of raw, fresh garlic and add to a separate mixing bowl. Pour over 2-3 tablespoons of red vinegar and 4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (note: not light olive oil, which is a less nutritious, highly refined olive oil gimmick). Sprinkle in some unrefined sea salt (1/2 teaspoon) and grind in some fresh black pepper. Mix everything well, then keep the bowl close by.
Once the peppers are cool enough to touch, gently peel them by hand. Tina turns her water tap on just slightly to wash the pepper skin from her fingertips as it’s a little sticky, but not enough to fully wet her hand and wash away those delicious oils. Pull off the stems and pull the pepper open to gently remove the seeds.
Shred the pepper into long, thin strips and place them directly into the vinegar and oil, then mix everything throughly together when all your peppers are shredded. You might even check the resting bowl for any left over pepper juice and pour it into the marinade.
Taste for salt, then set aside to marinate for 1-2 hours. They’ll last for 4-5 days in the refrigerator and are a wonderful accompaniment to many dishes. They’re also delicious on toast drizzled in olive oil.
There are many variations to this marinade. Try adding fresh red chilies, fresh oregano or basil leaves, capers, anchovy fillets, a half teaspoon smoked paprika, kalamata olives, pickled peppers… whatever sounds delicious.