well-framed

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We’ve driven out of Rome on three half-day trips this week; along the ancient Appia Antica to the hills, to the sea and to a town called Campagnano, small escapes providing space and an outside view. I remember a Drama tutor once asking how on earth can you comprehend what is on top of you, I think this is especially true of Rome and writing a book, both of which can loom so large and feel so claustrophobic that you need to take a step back to have any sort of perspective. Three trips meant three lunches.

One lunch was no more than fine, the other two though, well they seemed sent to remind my lately cynical self of the unique brilliance of Italian food and wine and the kaleidoscopic connection with place, history and tradition that can pass nonchalantly through a meal. I am still thinking about an antipasto of pear dipped in polenta and then deep-fried until golden and served with a dusting of pecorino cheese, abbacchio brodettato, lamb with egg and lemon sauce, and a dish of salt cod, tomatoes, raisins and pine nuts, all three of which may well sound unlikely, but were superb.

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I’ve written about peperonata before and I will probably write about it again. It will also be in the book, with a hilarious (or not so hilarious) story to justify its place. It is a recipe that falls into my extremely useful and delicious category. I first made it fifteen years, transported by Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and a scarlet stew to Italy long before I moved here, I have made it constantly ever since. So many things about peperonata are good. It is simple and relatively quick to make: onions, red peppers, tomatoes smothered and simmered in olive and butter into a thick, vivid, full- flavored stew that is at once silky, sweet and savory. It is forgiving, proportions can be varied, tomatoes fresh or tinned. It’s generous, bringing the best out in peppers and tomatoes, even the underprivileged sort, making them the tastiest they can be.  It keeps well for a couple of days in the fridge and it freezes well. Peperonata is also, like my friend Tom, the most accommodating dish ever, it quite simply goes with everything.

It is excellent served hot with chicken, pork, lamb, beef and my favorite, topped with a  poached egg. It can be stirred into pasta or rice. It’s jammy almost chutney-like-nature makes it good in sandwiches, on toast or crostini. It is lovely as a salad or part of an antipasto like supper, sprinkled with parsley or dotted with black olives. It good too – as I discovered a couple of days ago – made into tart.

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I make the pastry ridiculously quickly – 120 g plain four, 50 g cold diced butter, salt, a little grated parmesan, iced water - and rolled it thinly, lifted it into the tin, pricked it and then sat the tin in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill. I then baked it until it was the colour of a walnut, before spooning in the peperonata and sliding it back in the oven for 5 minutes. I’m not sure this was entirely necessary.

For a moment I felt as though I had inherited my mum and granny Alice’s knack for pastry: a thin, buttery crust, slightly crumbly at the edges but holding firm underneath. The parmesan was a random impulse that works well, giving the pastry a sharp, salty edge. It is important your peperonata is (as Jane Grigson puts it) moistly juicy, even a little dry, never sloppy. We had the tart – the peperonata framed neatly by the pastry – with thinly sliced fennel with olive oil and salt, a lunch that made me nearly as happy as slamming shut those books.

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Peperonata tart

Note – this makes enough peperonata for two 21 – 24 cm tarts – you can never have too much peperonata. You can of course use fresh tomatoes. I’d make double if I were you.

  • a large white or yellow onion
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 25 g butter
  • 3 large red peppers
  • a tin of tinned plum tomatoes or 6 good ripe tomatoes peeled and roughly chopped
  • salt and black pepper
  • 120 g plain flour
  • 50 g butter
  • 20 g freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and black pepper
  • cold water
  • You need at 21 cm – 24 cm tart or flan tin (ideally with a loose base)

Peel and slice the onion and then sauté it in olive oil and butter until soft and lightly golden. Cut the peppers into short strips, discarding the stalks, seeds and pith. Add the sliced peppers to the pan, stir and then cover the pan and leave over a medium flame for 15 minutes. Lift the lid once or twice to stir.

Add the tomatoes to the pan. Leave the peperonata to cook uncovered for 30 – 40 minutes at a lively simmer or until all the liquid has evaporated away and the peppers are extremely soft and lie in a rich, thick, vivid tomato stew. It should be not be sloppy.  Season vigorously with salt.

Rub the diced butter into the flour with your fingertips until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. Add the parmesan, a pinch of salt, some black pepper and enough iced water to bring the ingredients together into a smooth ball. On a lightly floured board roll the pastry into a round an inch larger than the tin. Lift the dough carefully into the tin, press it into the corners. Leave the pastry overhang. Prick the base of the pastry with a fork and then put it in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest.

Bake the pastry case blind for 15 minutes (or until it is pale gold and firm) at 180°. You can break off the pastry overhang or leave it be. Fill the tart case with peperonata and then return to the oven for 5 more minutes. Serve the tart warm or at room temperature with salad.

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52 Comments

Filed under peppers, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, spring recipes, tarts, Uncategorized

52 responses to “well-framed

  1. This week I was home sick and had lots of time to think. And I realised, the more I read, the more I was trying to build and achieve and make the most of my time at home, the more I was dragging myself down. So I tried to close projects and anxieties and open a fiction book instead. It worked. At the same time, I went back again and again to the kitchen looking for simple things, simple comforting flavours. Now, you made me realise that peperonata would have been just perfect – with or without the brilliant tart – genius idea I bookmarked for the summer.

    • rachel

      I know that you understand…..we can spend so much time filling our heads with other peoples ideas it leaves little for our own. the tart is lovely and yes just the thing for a summers day…in the garden…stay well my friend xox

  2. Your tart sounds wonderful for an afternoon lunch outside on a nice warm day. :)

  3. Definitely worth making a vat or two of this wonderful dish. You’ve come up with several uses for it that I shall be trying…. and soon.

    • rachel

      Vat is the right word, it is just so useful. It was a bit early to post it, but the sicilan peppers on the market were so nice (i always feel justified in buying sicilian fruit and veg, as I live with a sicilian). Hope you are well – RX

      • So that’s your excuse. With us, it’s tired Moroccan peppers at this time of year, so my love of the dish might just not be indulged quite yet. As well as the fact that Moving House is such a 24 hour a day job :(

      • rachel

        Moving house, I feel for you – but in the best way, I hope all goes well Rx

  4. What a lovely recipe! And I think I’ll take your suggestion and include a couple of eggs on top…this is perfect!

  5. Mandy

    Beautiful writing as ever. When is your book coming out?

  6. Hilary

    oh, delicious!! I may stroll out to my garden and pick some perfect peppers to make this with (the tomatoes are already harvested). Inspired to put it into pastry. BTW – I have punterelle growing now, thanks to you!

    I am intrigued to know what those books were. xx

    • rachel

      Ok, I am officially envious, puntarelle too, hurrah and wonderful. I will tell you about the books when you next come…they felt like school text books, whose sole purpose was to put you off a subject…hope you are both well xox

      • Hilary

        btw – my friend cooked your peperonata on the day you posted it AND she cooked the tart version (with olives and goat cheese scattered on top) for our picnic dinner on Friday at the outdoor screening of Gravity . It was delicious! So, you are influencing our southern hemisphere meals!! Post more out of season recipes, I say!! (don’t be envious of the picnic though – it rained). xx

      • rachel

        hurrah and with goats cheese sounds brilliant – noted. Sunshine in London today, much needed, baci R

  7. How did you know?? There is one portion of leftover peperonata (your recipe, of course) in the fridge and now I will have to hide it from my flatmate for one gloriously selfish tartlet. CANNOT WAIT.

    I also want to know what those frustrating books were. Keep on keeping on xx

    • rachel

      I knew because we are in blog syncronicity (can i say that). I will tell you about the books and the writer of one of them (makes raspberry sound) one day over coffee ox

      • That would be a dream. I will mark it in my “one day” calendar.

        I took pity on the flatmate and made a new batch. Tart for lunch today – SO EXCITED – and would you know, there is fennel in the fridge. Serious, you are magic. And I can’t wait to add you to my cookbook shelf. xx

  8. Maureen Deeley

    I think the recipe,should read a 12″ tart pan, not 21″?

  9. Eha

    Delightful! I mean delightfully simple!! And wonderfully tasty! I guess I mean the KISS principle should apply here as elsewhere :D !!!!!!

  10. Ilove everything about this. Just pinned.

  11. love the bit of parmesan in the crust. you must be deep in the manuscript by now. very wise to close those other books. best to not compare, yours will be in your unique voice, with wonderful recipes and images. on my end, I have seen the first run of galleys, which are back w/ publisher’s designer getting the little needed tweaks and fixes. book release date is 17 June–getting closer. sending all best thoughts xoxN

  12. laura

    I really love your delicious writing! And, like Nancy above, I was thrilled by the idea of the parmesan in the crust. Can’t wait to have your book in my kitchen so I don’t have to keep running to the computer to check, re-read, savor, etc.

    • rachel

      The parmesan in the crust worked well, I am considering a pinch of paprika too next time (god knows my life needs some perking up)…thank you and as always I am lucky to have you here xox

  13. hi friend. did you know your words are where i turn when i am stuck in a nothing but toast and soup for days heartbreak slump? they are. reminding me there are so many good things to be hungry for. can not wait for the book. xx

  14. My first experience with peperonata with with my two flat mates in Bra. We bought an entire crate of pepperoni from Carmagnola. We had 3 pots going, with each of us stirring and cooking a pot full of peppers on 2 stoves. It was hot and steamy in the kitchen, late summer. I had no idea what we were making, but it was great. And a great memory too of drinking wine and grappa as we cooked.
    Will be great to read your story in the book! Ciao from London.

    • rachel

      Hi Jesse, I am pretty sure this version comes from Piedmonte. I am keen to Visit Bra. Drinking wine while cooking of one of my favorite things. best – R

  15. Graziolina

    I really love your blog, maybe more for your brilliant writing than for the recipes (being Italian none of them sounds totally new to me!).
    That said – I’m sorry but I just can’t help it – I shudder at the thought of using butter in the peperonata: I’m pretty sure that the original Italian recipe calls for olive oil only!

    • rachel

      Hi Graziolina – so glad you enjoy reading and I wonder which original recipe you were talking about: is there one in particular? I find it intriguing how recipes, especially traditional ones, are so personal and vary from region to region, person to person, no original laying claim. I have recipes for several versions of peperonata from several books ( both english and Italian) from all over Italy, some of which use olive oil, some of which use some or all butter, this version is from Piedmonte where I understand much of the cooking traditionally used butter (and lots of it.) I think the combination of the two is lovely, especially if you use good butter, not if it makes you shudder though, then you should of course use olive oil. – all best, R

      • Graziolina

        Hi Rachel – I’m sorry if the verb “shudder” came out a little bit too strong, English is not my mother tongue so sometimes it’s difficult to weight out every word.
        Back to the peperonata, I’ve always used the recipe of my maternal grandmother who, being a southern woman, was more accustomed to olive oil rather than butter (she also preferred peperoncino to black pepper). But next time I’ll definitely give a chance to this butter-oil marriage!

  16. Anna

    You may suffer pain in your knees and legs whilst using a chest of draws as a desk but you cannot imagine the pain I suffer here in St Albans reading about the Italian food that you are enjoying….incomparable to anything on offer here….longing to buy the book and will no doubt weep over many of the the pages. Anna

  17. Brilliant! Peperonata in a tart… why did I never think of that? Because I guess I need you, Rachel, for just this purpose!

  18. victoria2nyc

    We’ve been suffering through a long, cold, snowy winter, and this sounds like just the ticket to whisk away the winter blues since I can use tinned tomatoes. The tart idea is brilliant. (Not that I could make a 21-inch tart, but that mistake does sound amazing, doesn’t it?) I also agree with the idea of a vat because then you could keep eating it in all its iterations – I’m thinking of dinner tonight – a thick pork chop cooked on top of the stove, seared gloriously brown, finished in the oven, then topped with this delicious sludgy tomatoey stew. And I LOVE the idea of butter. After all, Marcella’s miracle sauce is to die for. xoxo

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  20. As a long-time admirer of your work and general agreer with your opinions, i hope you’ll forgive me but I can’t help but disagree. In doing so, I may reveal the inky blackness of my own mind, but reading the words of others (your good self included) often inspires me both to new thoughts and to new words. Lately, exhaustion brought upon by the night time wakings of a newborn, has left my imagination even emptier than usual, and were it not for the promptings of others in books and online, I would feel so hemmed within my own mental limits that I might go mad.

    Appropriately, your casual mention of the pear fried in polenta dusted with pecorino, and the lamb in egg and lemon sauce may have done exactly that for tonight’s dinner.

  21. Rachel,
    congrats auguri on your two books!!!! You must be thrilled. And let me reassure you that the “american audience” will buy your book and will definitely soak beans overnight and even longer if you suggest so… Time to celebrate! (after kids get out of a sickness spell…)
    Tra altri, what a fantastic idea a peperonata pie… Back home I have peperonata on a regular basis, but never occurred to put it in a pie (and as much pies are ‘so argentine’ of course taken from the French)! I wish I could share the butter appreciation, but my stomach rejects it… I am butter challenged, what can i do? If I were French, I would be given subsides out of pity… Luckily there is always olive oil…
    Thanks for this!!!!!
    Mara

    • rachel

      HI M, and thank you thank you (the process is so,so slow.) I on the other hand feel funny if I don’t have butter (I am just like my dad),I love olive oil though and fortunately this dish works well with; all butter, all oil or a mix (my preference). Hope you are well? xo

      • Rachel, I have been housebound, not precisely enjoying the cooking of your inspiring recipes, and this is the reason of my late response. We are on the mend, still not there. Kids back to school as of today (hurray!!!!). I hope I now have time for this peperonata pie. A proposito, what is the conversion butter-olive oil that you recommend? And also, is your pizza friend coming? Pizza-low-rise therapy would be so soothing…
        Thanks!
        Mara

  22. What were these two books?
    Great recipe (though I’ll keep it on the side until it is peppers’ season once again and make do with roasted onion tarts for the time being).

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