Among the many memories of my mother’s cooking was the unmistakable smell of roasting peppers on a summer afternoon. It was a regular ritual of hers, and one that I carry on all year long.
Fresh bell peppers were mostly available during the summer months back then. And our hot, non-air-conditioned kitchen didn’t deter my mother from cranking up the broiler every week.
We had roast peppers with our dinner but also alongside a sandwich for lunch. Sometimes, the roast peppers were lunch! To this day, they remain one of my favorite foods. And I always look for them as a first course in any Italian restaurant I might be visiting. When I have the time, I serve them with cocktails and garlicky crostini before Sunday dinner.
We are lucky today to see bell peppers of almost every color in our markets: red, yellow and orange, along with the more familiar green. I have even found creamy white and purple ones at the height of summer. Red peppers are considered the sweetest, but I like to use a variety of colors, as they look so beautiful arranged on a platter.
If you would like to try roasting sweet summer peppers at home, here are some things I’ve learned along the way:
- Look for large, thick-skinned peppers. I have learned to recognize them by sight and feel. They are so much easier to peel when roasted.
- You can use either the broiler or the outdoor grill. In the summer, the grill is my choice.
- I roast the peppers whole and keep turning them until they are almost completely charred. (Some sources recommend cutting them in halves or quarters.)
- Use a heavy bag for steaming. (I recently had a Ziploc plastic bag break with hot, steaming peppers inside. Whatever you use, support the bottom of the bag and place it in a bowl.)
- As noted above, red peppers, which have been allowed to ripen longer in the summer sun, are sweetest.
- When peeling the peppers after roasting, do not rinse with water.
- Look for peppers grown locally. Fresh summer produce is the best and the most economical too.
Italian Roast Peppers (Pepperonata)
- 6-8 large and heavy bell peppers, assorted colors if available
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Good vinegar—red wine, white wine or balsamic
- Salt and pepper
- Scrub and then dry the peppers thoroughly.
- Pre-heat your grill or broiler.
- If using your broiler, place the peppers on a broiler pan or sheet pan. If using the grill, place the peppers directly on the grates.
- Broil or grill the peppers until each side, along with the tops and bottoms, are charred. Turn from side to side frequently. (Don’t be afraid to see the peppers turn black. This is what you want.)
- When the peppers are completely charred on each side, place them in a heavy bag (paper or freezer). Seal the bag and place it in a bowl or on a plate. Let the peppers cool (at least 45 minutes).
- When cool, remove each pepper and remove all the skin and seeds with your fingers. If the peppers have been completely charred, the skin should slip off easily.
- Pull or cut the peppers into strips and place them in a serving bowl.
- Drench the peppers with lots of good olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
- Serve at room temperature.
I often “dress up” my roast peppers by tossing in several cloves of peeled, fresh garlic and a sprinkling of capers. For a buffet table or summer lunch, roll the pepper strips and place them on a platter. Tuck fresh mozzarella slices and/or tomato wedges among the peppers. And if you are adventurous, add some oil-packed anchovies. Serve this wonderful antipasti with good, crusty Italian bread and extra olive oil and vinegar for dipping.
Roast peppers in oil freeze well and are great to pair with grilled steak, fish or chicken for a quick summer meal. They are terrific on homemade pizza and cheesesteaks.
Roast peppers: Another example of Italians’ love affair with vegetables!