By Domenica Marchetti
Tomatoes get all the glory at this time of year, but in my opinion, peppers are the real stars of the season. The aroma of roasted peppers takes me right back to my childhood summers on the Adriatic coast of Italy.
Walking back home from the beach at lunchtime, I would inevitably be hit with that sweet and pungent perfume drifting from a nearby trattoria or from someone’s kitchen. Heaven.
Right now peppers are at their absolute best — firm and glossy, full of bright flavor and juicy crunch.
If you’re a gardener you are probably already reaping your rewards. And if, like me, you rely on the local farmers’ markets, you’ve no doubt been treated to their showy display, peppers piled high on wooden tables or tumbling out of bins in a riot of color from deep purple and bright red to sunny yellow and even cream.
Now is the time to scoop up these beauties, and also to think beyond the typical salad or summer crudité platter, for peppers have so much more to offer. They can be fried, grilled, roasted, stuffed and so on. But my absolute favorite way to enjoy them is to make these sweet and sour peppers preserved in olive oil, a recipe from my most recent book, “Preserving Italy” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).
The peppers are first charred — either under the broiler or on the grill — and then marinated in a sweet and sour brine with garlic, capers, and parsley. Finally, they’re packed in a jar and topped off with olive oil. The result?
Peppers that are silky in texture and bright and assertive in flavor, and so much better than bottled peppers from the supermarket. A bonus: no special canning techniques are needed. I simply store the jars in the refrigerator, where they keep for weeks.
I almost always have a jar or two of these peppers on hand, and I use them in more ways than I can count. They make a great side dish to just about anything grilled: steak, sausages, lamb or pork chops, chicken — even fish. They are also delicious tossed with pasta and Parmigiano cheese, or stirred into a frittata. I also use them as a topping for crostini and pizza.
In fact, I rely on them so often that I’ve dubbed them “MVP peppers.”
Recipe: Sweet and Sour Peppers
8 ripe bell peppers (red,
yellow, orange, green)
2 tablespoons tiny
2 tablespoons finely
chopped fresh flat-leaf
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Set an oven rack 4 inches below the broiler and preheat the broiler. Have on hand two clean 1-pint jars and their lids (see Tip).
Place the peppers on a rimmed baking sheet and broil, turning every couple of minutes with tongs, until they are blistered and somewhat blackened on all sides. (Or you can char the peppers on a grill.) Transfer them to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let them steam for about 10 minutes.
Lay a pepper on a cutting board near the sink and cut or gently pull out the stem. Let any juice from the pepper drain into the sink. Peel off the skin, which should slip off easily. Cut the pepper in half and scrape out the innards. Cut the halves lengthwise into thin strips. If you like, cut the strips into dice to make “confetti.” Transfer the peppers to a heat-proof bowl and stir in the capers and parsley.
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and garlic to a boil in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Boil the brine for two minutes to dissolve the sugar and salt, and then pour it over the peppers. Let steep for one hour.
Drain the peppers, reserving a little of the brine. Pack the peppers into the jars. Spoon 1 tablespoon brine over the peppers; then fill each jar with enough oil to cover the peppers completely. Cover tightly and let the peppers sit at cool room temperature for 24 hours. Check to make sure the peppers are still submerged; if not, add more oil.
Store the peppers in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. To serve, remove from the jar only as much as you plan to use and let it come to room temperature. Top off the jar with more oil as necessary to keep the remaining peppers submerged.
Sterilizing the jars before filling them will prevent bacterial growth. Wash the jars in warm, soapy water, then immerse them in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes