Peperonata 40 years on

I have constantly been inspired throughout my food career by the likes of Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and Robert Carrier – they were the true pioneers of Mediterranean cooking, the first to promote the wondrous rainbow of vegetables and fruit that is available in that neck of the woods. My library is full of their books, and I still refer to them for some of the old, classic but still delicious recipes, even adding a twist to the taste and style of each and every one. That is not to say that I don’t love all foods from far flung continents – it’s just that I revisit my tried and tested old favourites… it helps that I also lived in both Provence and just across the border in Northern Italy for several years!

Whilst this recipe originated in Italy where David spent many years, it crept across the border to Southern France and the Provence region with great rapidity and the French now almost claim it as their own invention! Whoever invented it is neglible –it is so damn good! I first tried in up in the hills behind the coast in the quaint and mystical town of Mougins, some nigh on 40 years ago – once visited, never forgotten. I was then a very young and naïve chef, full of bravado and a desire to conquer the culinary world, which was easy when sitting in this then, very sleepy town, where mainly the very rich frequented. It is still full of visitors and residents who are well heeled and full-pocketed, but it is a wonderful place that tourists of all ‘pockets’ visit or stay and fall in love with. Full now with restaurants including Michelin starred, it still retains it’s charm and Provencale feeling. I was a little sceptical at first, as I didn’t feel you could simply eat peppers on their own, however they were cooked! How wrong I was…

Glorious multi-coloured bell peppers with sweet onions (red or white) and the intensity of Provence herbs give this dish a real depth of flavour. Use only the best extra-virgin olive oil, indigenous to the region and some wine (up to you how much but a couple of splashes really do suffice). Interestingly enough, many of the recipes do not feature garlic, but I have made it with and without, it is your choice, as not everyone gets on with garlic!

The recipe benefits from long-term simmering, but ensure you don’t let it dry out.

This is a fantastic side dish or topping to accompany grilled meats or barbecue meats. It is one of those dishes you can serve hot or cold – and you can even eat it on its own, it is still so memorable. If eating this dish with simply crusty baguettes and nothing else, double the quantities below.

You can use mixed colour peppers, red or white onion. Delicious particularly with tender pork steaks or chicken breasts. Also try topping fish with this, it does make the fish zing!

Serves:                                  4

Preparation Time:              10 minutes

Cook Time:                           30-40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • oz/50ml good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion (red or white) finely sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (any colour) sliced and deseeded
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
  • 6 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried Herbes de Provence
  • Small handful fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ tsp sugar
  • 2 splashes of red wine (you can substitute for our favourite verjuice!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil leaves (if desired)

Method:

  1. Halve, seed and thinly slice two medium-sized peppers, into strips about ½ inch/1cm wide.
  2. Pour 2fl.oz/60ml of olive oil into a shallow pan then add the onion and garlic . Let it cook until soft and pale then add the peppers.
  3. Chop 6 plum tomatoes (or 1 can chopped tomatoes) and add them to the pan, add the wine and let the mixture cook down over a low heat for 30-40 minutes. Half way through the cooking process, add 1tsp dried Herbes de Provence and the sugar. Stir well.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Add basil leaves if desired.
  6. Serve with a great French bread, the crustier the better, to mop up the juices!

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