Peperonata was nonna Lucia’s speciality. Nonna Lucia made one of the best peperonata I have ever tasted. Maybe it was because she never held back on the olive oil or maybe it was because she never really had a recipe. It was always a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Or maybe it was because she loved cooking for us and she knew we all loved her peperonata.
Nonna Lucia was my husband’s nonna. I didn’t know either of my nonnas because my parents had come to Australia leaving all their family behind and by the time I returned to Italy for the first time at the age of 6, both nonnas had died. So nonna Lucia was like my nonna and an amazing friend. When she died in 2011, she left a void but she also left wonderful memories and recipes.
Time after time, nonna would phone to say she had made something for our dinner, it might have been quail or soup or this delicious peperonata. Approaching her back door (because we always used the back door) the wonderful smell of coffee would be wafting down the stairs. Her stovetop moka on her vintage, pink stove would be bubbling furiously. A coffee and a chat was the best remedy for anything that was troubling. Nonna Lucia was honest and forthright and said it as she saw it. Over a few coffees I was able to write down a few recipes that usually included a handful of this or a teacup of that. This is one of them.
This recipe is very open to interpretation so if you like the flavour of oregano or basil, go ahead add it. You like less garlic, sure no problem. You have an open jar of passata in the fridge, use it. Italian cooking is like that. Sure, start with a recipe but learn to cook with your taste buds and you too, will have an Italian nonna in the kitchen.
These beautiful long capsicum were picked from my garden yesterday but in Australia, capsicum or sweet peppers are available all year round. However, the best time for capsicum is November to June and remember to choose ones that are heavy for their size and don’t have wrinkled skin.
Peperonata is a side dish but so much more. Sure it’s fantastic with a crumbed steak or chicken. But for a quick eggs in purgatory, add a little chilli and break a couple of eggs into a pan of simmering peperonata and before you know it you have a hearty breakfast or Sunday night supper. No barbeque in our family is complete without it. Yes, it’s especially good on a barbeque steak or a Sicilian sausage. Nonna’s peperonata will become just as special to you and it is to me.
- 1 pound (450 grams) red and yellow sweet peppers capsicum
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 5 tbsp tomato paste
- ¾ cup water
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp white wine vinegar
- salt, to taste
- Cut the sweet red peppers (capsicum) in half and remove seeds and white membranes. Cut into large dice (or you can cut into strips). Peel onion and slice thinly. Peel garlic then chopped finely.
- Place frying pan over medium heat, add olive oil and onions. Cook gently until beginning to soften about 5 minutes then add garlic. Continue to cook gently for another 5 to 10 until onions are soft and melting – not allowing onions and garlic to colour.
- Add sweet red peppers (capsicum), stir well and fry gently for 10 minutes.
- Add tomato paste. Stir well and cook for 1 or 2 minutes
- Finally add water, 1 teaspoon sugar, vinegar and salt. Reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then
- Remove lid and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes or so until sauce is thickened a little and sweet red peppers (capsicum) have softened to almost melting.
- Taste. Adjust sugar and salt. Simmer a little more. Taste again. Adjust if necessary.
- All that’s left to do is enjoy!