I love red peppers, capsicum, or ‘peperoni’ as they are called in Italian. (In American English the word ‘peperoni’ somehow came to mean a kind of salami, a salami to garnish pizza; I don’t know how that came about, linguistically speaking.)
What I do know is that peppers come into their own when Summer months make them abound in Mediterranean climates – but for decades now these formerly warm-weather vegetables are now available all year round. I normally eschew vegetables that are out of season but give in to the impulse now and then. Even so, I like to think that I am ‘canny’ and know that a red pepper this time of year will taste nothing like its relatives a few months down the road. In other words, the out-of-season pepper needs a little bit of help. Hence today’s recipe, which includes sugar and raisins.
INGREDIENTS: Red peppers, onions, peppercorns, raisins, sugar, white wine vinegar, pine kernels, fresh mint leaves
Begin by soaking the raisins in some hot water – or even some sweet wine or sherry if you prefer.
Slice the onions, shower with olive oil and add a few peppercorns (I love whole pepper, it always imparts a subtle taste that somehow makes the dish taste better).
Turn on the heat, over a low flame, cover and cook. I checked my clock and I cooked the onions for 15 minutes.
While the onions were stewing away, I got on with cutting the red peppers and slicing them into a match-stick or finger shape.
Dribble olive oil over these too and cook, again, over a low flame.
Here are the onions after 15 minutes of cooking time.
Add the onions to the peppers.
Time to add salt – I like to use the French sel de Guérande salt in most of my cooking. I like its ‘sweetness’.
Don’t by shy with your salt. If you look closely at this photo, you can see that I sprinkled quite a lot – but believe me, the end result was not at all salty, on the contrary. Salt is a miracle of an ingredient: it draws out the taste from the food in question. No salt, no taste.
I cooked the onions and peppers for another few minutes, until I liked the consistency of the peppers. There is no ‘crunch’ to them. They have to have a bit of ‘bite’ to them, naturally, otherwise they would lose their appeal. But at the same time, this ‘bite’ is a silky mellow one. Turn the heat off.
This photo looks like something out of a space ship, very weird, I know. But what it is, is a few teaspoons of sugar drowning in some white vinegar.
I then transferred the sugar and vinegar to a teensy pot and brought it to the boil. I deftly tasted the vinegar and it was far too ‘vinegary’ with the amount of sugar I had imagined would suffice, so had to had double ! And here is a rule that always obtains in the kitchen: always taste taste taste. The vinegar is ready when it becomes pleasantly sweet. The phone rang just at that point and off I went, glass of wine in hand (it was definitely “wine o’clock” by then) to put the world to rights with one of my sisters living in England. Talk talk talk, sip, banter banter banter, sip, this that and the other, sip, oh my goodness it’s getting late must dash, final sip from the wine glass. Love you loads, bye bye.
Back to the kitchen and using a wooden spoon I laid out the peppers and onions like a wreath. The puddle you see in the middle are the juices of the peppers and onions, coupled with the olive oil.
This was just before I poured the sugared vinegar into the puddle in the middle. It looks like a glassful, wouldn’t you say?
I turned the heat on again, and now added the drained raisins. There is always something celebratory about raisins, I don’t why, don’t you think?
Toasted a handful of pine kernels (be careful when doing so, they are ‘treacherous’, they can burn in an instant, so do keep a beady eye on them).
And voilà, ta daaa ! The finished dish. Switch the heat off. And serve at room temperature.
I actually served it the following day and it was much appreciated I am glad to say.
Add fresh mint leaves just before serving. The mint and sugar vinegariness combine beautifully with the caramelised onions and the slowly stewed peppers.
And the olive oil, naturally, does its part too. As you can see, the oil drops to the bottom of the dish together with the juices and the person can choose just how much to drizzle over the veggies. If, like me, you can’t get enough of Italian bread and adore the naughty ‘thing’ of mopping up a sauce with morsels of said bread (etiquette says it’s a no-no but we all do it, it’s called “fare la scarpetta” – making a little shoe), this dish could be truly dangerous.
P.S. Read all about “making the shoe” in the post I wrote a while ago on the subject: