Peppers, peppers, and more peppers. Just like the stars in the sky, basil in the pesto, or salt in the Mediterranean, peppers of many colors and sizes are ubiquitous in the South of Italy. In Benevento and other little hill towns, peppers turn the farmer’s markets bright red.
Last year I went to the Benevento Farmer’s Market with my new friend, Flo. Before coming to Italy, I immersed myself in genealogy research, hoping to learn about the birthplace of my great-grandmother. Magic ensued. And of course, there is this wonderful thing called the Internet. I found Flo and discovered that we are distant relatives. When I arrived in the South of Italy and made it to Torre le Nocelle, birthplace of my great-grandmother, Flo took me under his wing and declared himself my personal tour guide.
We spent a lovely afternoon in Benevento, sipping coffee, eating Italian pastries, and wandering around the Farmer’s Market. If I had to compare the Italian Farmer’s Market to mine in California, I would say they are about the same except for everyone speaking Italian! The vendors proudly present their wares, folks in the neighborhood buy their produce, and people stroll along the aisle, and the friendly neighborhood atmosphere permeates the air. It made me incredibly happy.
Making peperonata is a delightful way to honor the flavors and texture of sweet peppers. The combination of copious amounts of olive oil, garlic, onions, shallots, and peppers stew and bubble slowly, creating heavenly flavors.
Serves 4-5 as a side dish
4 sweet bell peppers (any combination of red, green, orange, or yellow) about 2 lbs, cut lengthwise in 1/2 inch slices
1/4 cup olive oil plus 3 tablespoons
3 gloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 shallot, quartered
1/2 cup pureed tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh basil or thyme
2 teaspoons red wine or white wine vinegar
salt to taste
1. Pour the 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy frying pan and heat to medium. Add garlic and saute for about a minute until fragrant. Next add sliced onion and shallot and cook for another two minutes, stirring occasionally to coat evenly with olive oil, and onion just begins to soften.
2. Add bell peppers, stir well and turn down heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add thyme, vinegar, tomato puree, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and stir well.
4. Continue cooking, uncovered, for another 30 – 40 minutes. Make sure the heat is on low. You want the Peperonata to simmer gently, becoming slightly caramelized and soft, but not burnt. Stir occasionally. The long slow simmer will help to concentrate the flavors. Trust me, it is worth the wait.