How Antipasto di Melanzane e Peperoni came to My Italian Dish:
Not long ago, Chick, a cycling friend of my husband Tom, asked if I knew about an extraordinary Eggplant and Peppers dish that he had experienced in Sovana, Italy. Chick, an avid cyclist, is naturally concerned about eating healthy foods that at the same time give him the energy to pedal on and pedal fast! This is one of those dishes. Chick mentioned that he and his group enjoyed this so much while visiting Sovana, that they asked the servers at the restaurant to please continue to bring more of it to the table. See the photo of Chick enjoying a splendid moment dining in Italy during a break from riding.
This “mysterious” dish had been in his mind every since. When he asked me about it, I was immediately intrigued as I knew little of Sovana. However, the dish he described was somewhat familiar in ingredients. Fortunately, he also provided a clear photo of the half eaten platter which offered a good view of the basics. I decided to accept the challenge, and I will be ever-grateful to Chick for bringing it to my attention. Besides, this kind of stuff just “makes my merry go round” or whatever!
To get a feel for the region and cuisine of the area, I first researched Sovana as I knew little about it. Sovana is a very small village in the province of Grosseto in the heart of Tuscany and near the Lazio region. It is not usually considered to be on the “beaten path” of most tourists, as it is tiny and rural with the open Tuscan terrain so classic and frequently photographed and painted . However, there is much history there. The village dates back to Etruscan times and is known for its tombs and the frescoes of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is also said to be the birthplace of Pope Gregory VII.
After much research and pondering, I took to the kitchen with my newly starched Linda’s Italian Table apron to attempt re-creation of this splendid dish that I call Antipasto di Melanzane e Peperoni. Chick described the flavors and ingredients to me which really helped. Let’s see…a saute of eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, olive oil, maybe parsley. It reminded me of two dishes my parents, Loretta and Attilio, used to make. One was a simple dish of peppers and oil served in antipasti – usually cold or room temperature. The other which my father more often made called for the addition of sausage – the very classic Sausage and Peppers – served hot with crusty bread. While I wanted to remain true to the dish Chick described , I landed somewhere in between the dishes that were familiar to me as well.
The resulting recipe provided for Tom and me one of those perfect late afternoon fall lunches On the Patio that Tuscany has made famous – sunshine, crisp air, a balmy breeze, good wine, and simple yet memorable food. The added benefit here is that this dish is nutritious and vegetarian. There is very little fat in this dish, and the fat used is olive oil which provides its own benefits. On that lovely afternoon, it offered the perfect light course. The planets were aligned indeed!
I decided that this could be a perfect antipasto or even a side dish to meat – to be served hot, warm, or room temperature. It also occurred to me that the dish would be more flavorful if the vegetables were roasted first – HEALTHY – and would provide an opportunity for a fun and easy tutorial for roasting your own peppers. By roasting the peppers first, you bring a slightly smoky flavor to the dish which will give it an added level of flavor. You can also roast them ahead if you wish. The roasted peppers will also be more tender because you remove the skins. Roast your own peppers, and it is not likely you’ll want to buy the jarred ones too often again! It is EASY and just takes a few minutes. There are several ways to roast the peppers from using a blow torch to holding them over an open flame on a gas stove. The method described below is SO EASY, can be used to roast and skin peppers for any dish, and requires no more equipment than your broiler. You will be amazed at the simplicity of this procedure.
We will also roast the eggplant which will again enhance its flavor. Also, eggplant tends to act as a sponge when frying, and roasting it first will eliminate the need for so much oil. You will be happy with this dish! It can be used in different ways, and you will see how easy it is to roast peppers. This antipasto is light, yet buttery tasting – without actually adding butter – and so delicious. I have added just a touch of fresh lemon juice to balance the flavors with a little acidity. This addition, I feel, is important. Aside from balance, the lemon adds complexity and freshness. Don’t you agree that a crusty bread merits a very necessary invitation to this party for dipping into the luscious sauce? Mmmmm. This recipe is full of nutrients and ALL VEGGIE! TROPPO BELLA!
ANTIPASTO DI MELANZANE E PEPERONI
4 peppers – one of each color: green, yellow, red, orange
Olive oil for brushing
Arrange the 4 peppers whole on a baking sheet – brush with olive oil on all sides.
Place pan in oven under broiler as close as you can get to the broiler without touching it.
When one side starts to blotch and blacken, using tongs turn the peppers and blacken each side. See photo. Watch them carefully, and do not let peppers get too black or scorch. Results are rapid. Don’t walk away. This is not a time to call your best friend to brag that you are roasting your own peppers. FOCUS!
When finished, using tongs, place the peppers in a bowl and quickly cover tightly with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will steam the skins and make removal easy.
Peel all of the skins off the peppers. They will slide off easily. Assist with a fork if needed.
Remove the stem from each pepper – this will practically fall off. Scrape the seeds off with a fork. You don’t want to see seeds in this dish.
Cut the peppers into large pieces- 2-3 inches. Do not chop in small pieces. See photo.
1 Med.-Large Eggplant – skinned & sliced, ready for pressing (see below)
Olive oil for brushing
Slice lengthwise in 1/2 in. thick slices – usually 4-6.
Then press the eggplant for a couple of hours as described in instructions in my post for Pasta Alla Norma <(Click to link directly to this post) This dish is sweet and you do not want any bitterness to detract from the sweet buttery flavor.
After pressing, place eggplant slices in pan and brush with oil. Sprinkle with a little Kosher salt. Roast at 425 degrees for 12 minutes. Turn once halfway through.
Cut eggplant into large pieces.
2 tbsp. oil
3 cloves garlic sliced lengthwise
2 1/2 c. Sliced Baby Bella or Cremini Mushrooms ( these give an earthier flavor)
3/4 c. White Wine
1 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1 tbsp Fresh Oregano (2 tsp if dried)
1/2 c. Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley
1 tsp Kosher Salt or to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
Fresh chopped basil for garnish
Saute garlic in oil. When just becomes golden, add mushrooms and saute til just tender.
Add eggplant, peppers, wine, lemon and herbs, salt, pepper at med. high. Stir occasionally and let wine cook down. A lovely sauce should remain. If you “must” add butter, this would be the time – but only a tablespoon. I find it rich, delicious, and buttery without the added fat.
Garnish with fresh basil.
Don’t forget the crusty bread and a lovely crisp white wine of your choice. I would suggest a Pinot Grigio – crisp and cold – ON THE PATIO!
Isn’t it gorgeous? This is so easy, and you will have created a beautiful and authentic dish with so many uses and much versatility. You can serve this warm or cold as an antipasto, first course, or side dish. Try something different by adding roasted zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, and/or roasted potatoes – even sweet potatoes. Serve it over roast chicken – so many options – all good for you. Buon Appetito!
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE!
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography