Food & Drink: Peter Piper picks for the peckish

Peppers come in more than 25 varieties, among them long red, long black, cardinal, cayenne, cherry, Nocera, Asti, California Wonder, Yolo Wonder and Midway, Bull Horn, Chinese, Bellringer, Bell Boy, Merrimack Wonder, Worldbeater (no prize for guessing the latter bunch comes from America). There are probably 25-squared ways to use them in cooking.

Almost all you need to know about choosing peppers in shop or restaurant is how to distinguish between sweet and hot. The only reliable rule is that sweet peppers are generally bigger (their name derives, some say, from the Latin for 'box', capsa, and they belong to the genus Capsicum), and come in a wide variety of colours; the hot ones are generally smaller and universally red.

Sweet peppers, sometimes called bell peppers, are equally good hot or cold, as a main dish (often stuffed) or as an appetiser. Though seldom used straight, as a vegetable they are a leading player in a wide variety of sauces, not to speak of composite vegetable stews such as the wonderful Romanian ghivetch.

On the vegetable stage, let it be said, they make memorable statements and should be treated with respect. They can also, because of their woody nature, be somewhat indigestible. They are among the select group of table flavours - such as onions and garlic - that linger into the next day.

We most often use them at home as an appetiser. Picking peppers red, green and yellow (the colour contrasts are important), they are first roasted in the oven (or, if it is summer, on charcoal), then peeled, seeded, sliced, and sprinkled heavily with good olive oil and a small amount of chopped garlic. They may be served within an hour or so, once they have absorbed the oil and garlic.

Italians generally, and Sicilians especially, will eat them raw, simply dipping them into olive oil. A pinzimonio is a pepper salad in which the peppers, raw but seeded and sliced, are covered in oil and flavoured with salt and pepper (and sometimes with the addition of a small number of chopped peperoncini, the long, knobbly hot peppers). Sweet peppers are also a main ingredient in the delicious Sicilian caponata, in which they are joined by aubergines, olives and large, green, fresh unsalted capers.

Peperoni e melanzane

(peppers and aubergine)

This dish is used as a hearty accompaniment for a powerful main course: a true autumn dish because aubergine and pepper remain fresh on the market all through October.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 4 sweet peppers of mixed colours

1 medium red onion

2 medium aubergines

1lb fresh tomatoes (blanched and seeded) or tinned Italian whole tomatoes

4tbs olive oil

Preparation: Soak the peppers in cold water for at least half an hour. Into a casserole put the olive oil and the onion chopped into eight. Gut the peppers and cut them into rings, then place them as a layer over the onions. Cube the aubergines and place them on top of the peppers. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with salt (gently) and pepper, then cover the casserole and simmer for 20 minutes at a gentle heat without stirring. Mix, and check the flavour, then simmer for another 10 minutes, uncovered, mixing gently once or twice.

When it comes to stuffing peppers, no holds are barred. As with stuffed tomatoes, aubergine, acorn squash, cabbage and so on, the limit is that of your imagination and your larder. The traditional way of stuffing peppers, with left-over rice, does indeed make a hearty, if somewhat bland dish. I favour the more robust stuffings, and especially remember a dish of stuffed peppers served on one of the remote Aeolian islands off Sicily. To my surprise, it differs not greatly from a Neapolitan stuffing described in Anna del Conte's excellent Secrets from an Italian Kitchen.

The products of that island, however, varied from the Neapolitan. Filicudi had the sea (hence anchovies and sardines); it grew tomatoes, olives and, above all, the world's finest capers. It also grew (and hand-threshed) its own wheat, from which it made a rock- like unleavened bread such as was made in the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago.

The breadcrumbs from this bread are what gives this Filicudi stuffing its rich consistency. (As a substitute, I suggest using only the crust of an Italian farm loaf that has gone stale.)

The ingredients being ad libitum, I will not specify the quantities. Use common sense in mixing them: no one taste should overwhelm the rest. The stuffing is made as follows: first fry the breadcrumbs in oil with a little garlic. Place in a bowl and add chopped fresh sardines and anchovies. Mix carefully with a little fresh oil. Add a handful of fresh capers (if you cannot find fresh, use capers from a jar that have been soaked in water overnight to get rid of the brine), a few sultanas and a dozen stoned black olives. Chop the mixture until it is well blended, and add a single bayleaf, chopped, and a tiny amount of fresh rosemary.

Fill the peppers, skinned and de-seeded, cover with their caps and cook in a medium oven for . . . (despite what all the cookbooks say, I find ovens vary too greatly to state an exact amount of time: 40 minutes is about right). You will know, by the texture of the pepper, when the dish is done. If it is utterly yielding, it is ready; if it is stubborn, cook some more; if it has fallen apart, that is only an aesthetic disaster.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future