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.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Life & Style
life
VIDEO
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit