Roasted peppers are a brilliant culinary sleight of hand. If you haven’t made them, do.
I get very excited about roasted peppers… Cookery writers get excited about roasted peppers… But most of all TV chefs gets excited about roasted peppers. With all the bravura of someone about to put their head in the jaws of a lion they will daringly put the peppers right on top of an exposed gas flame. Wohoo! This is real hands-on, devil-may-care cooking… There’s all those naked flames, not to mention the manly delight of being allowed to burn something until it’s charred to smithereens. If this is being a gourmand, count me in!
Roasted peppers have Italian written all over them. They feature in just about every Italian cook book and appear in one of my first cookbooks: Carluccio’s Invitation to Italian Cooking. They’re a reliable workhorse, a stalwart in WDC’s Italian repertoire. But while I was learning my new clever roasted-pepper tricks in the kitchen, I couldn’t disguise the fact that I hadn’t discovered anything new; I wasn’t doing anything an Italian would consider gastronomically distinctive or beyond everyday kitchen craft practised by any Italian cook. Mrs WDC and her Italian family, like generations of Italian families before them have always roasted peppers.
Carluccio said roasting peppers transforms the humble bell or sweet red pepper into something sublime. It’s true – they don’t taste at all like raw pepper – more like vegetable charcuterie. In the same way as humble pork is transformed into rich and flavourful salumi, roasted peppers become intensely savoury, sweet, smoky and bitter. Like salumi, roast peppers are at their happiest when they’re causally keeping company with a big spread of antipasti: mozzarella, rocket, mortadella, Parma ham, salami, Russian salad, anchovies, olives, tomatoes and of course lots of crusty bread.
However, for all the gallantry in making roasted peppers, they are time-consuming and quite fiddly. For this reason I tend to save roasting peppers for a special occasion. Unless that is, we happen to have a surfeit of peppers – and at the moment we do. This imbalance of stock is the result of trying to procure wholesale amounts of vegetables for a local community food festival when I normally only buy for a family. I usually have one or two peppers in the larder, but at the moment it is overflowing with dozens of red, yellow and orange peppers… So I stoked-up the barbecue and roasted a tray-full.
The image above shows how we usually serve roasted peppers. They would share the table with most of the antipasti ingredients listed above.