May 30, 2016 — Continental
‘There is something exquisite about roasted peppers – maybe it’s the love put into them – or that they are so purely Italian (naturally, I’m biased!). They are one part of a delicious antipasti, accompanied by mozzarella, salad, warm bread, olives and salami. Dad’s really enjoying his roasted peppers at the moment, and can usually be found in the fridge, prefect for elevenses and laying on slice of bread with a maybe a piece of ham.’
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Several sweet/bell peppers red, yellow or orange, about half to one per person
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
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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.
Char the skin
Use the grill, the barbecue or an exposed gas flame. Watch them carefully. The idea is to char the skin until blackened, it will then separates from the flesh and can then be peeled off. The point is also to ‘roast’ the peppers – so don’t put them on a such a high heat source that they blacken in a minute. Conversely, don’t roast them slowly without charring them. It’s a fine balance, the flesh needs to be cooked sufficiently to be soft and pliable, yet the skin must be charred in order to peel off. NB: the pepper does not need to be completely black, providing the skin is well roasted it should still peel off.
Steam and peel
After they have been grilled or roasted put them in a large bowl and cover with cling film to gently steam. Let them rest for half an hour. Now comes the fiddly bit – peel the charred skin from the pepper. First make sure you capture and retain any liquid that has oozed into the bottom of the bowl you steamed the peppers in, then check the inside of the pepper for any further liquid. This liquid is vital and will enhance the flavour of the peppers. Remove the stalk and seeds and cut the pepper into thirds to make peeling more manageable. Don’t be tempted to wash-off the skin or use water other than to occasionally clean your fingers. Keep a kitchen towel handy to wipe your fingers. Various items of cutlery and sharp knives will be necessary to assist in the task. In particular try to remove all the seeds.
Trim the flesh and put into a dish. Strain the pepper liquid and pour over the peppers. Add a good glug of wine vinegar and a few glugs of good olive oil. Peel a large clove of garlic, slice very thinly and add to the peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Mix and allow to marinate for at least an hour – or overnight in the fridge.
Garnish with basil and serve with bread in an antipasto.
A perfect winter warmer – Cassoulet!
Try Dad’s loaded low-fat salsa quesadillas with The Laughing Cow Lightest x8 cheese.
An excellent way to turn a popular Italian slow food standard into an easy and quicker family classic.
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