Peperonata alla Virginia
During the summer, my mom would let her glorious garden determine the day’s meal. She’d pick whatever was in peak shape and build a vegetarian feast around her harvest. Once a week during those hot lazy days, she’d create the most delicious and satisfying peperonata which turned out slightly differently each time, depending on how many eggplants, peppers, or tomatoes were ready. With any combination, the appetizing aroma escaped the open windows and announced itself to the neighbours! As the secondo (the dish that follows a soup or pasta), she’d place the simmering hot pan right on the table where we would scoop out a creamy mix of basil-infused stewed vegetables with our thick slices of crusty Calabrese bread. As an adult, I’ve abandoned the tradition of a daily primo and secondo but this peperonata will certainly not leave you hungry. Hearty enough on its own, it can also be used to dress pasta, accompany grilled meat, or grace any cocktail party as an appetizer with crostini.
- 2 - 3 medium Italian eggplants washed and sliced like French Fries
- 2 bell peppers washed and thickly sliced into strips
- fresh hot pepper, chopped, to taste Optional
- 3 - 4 fresh tomatoes peeled and crushed (substitute with small can of imported Italian tomatoes)
- 2 springs of fresh basil
- 6 - 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- Salt to taste
Wash and slice eggplant and peppers in strips. Set aside.
Heat half the oil in large skillet on medium. If using cast iron, heat pan for 10 minutes before adding oil. Add the eggplant slices, salt lightly, and sauté until golden, soft, and fully cooked, about 10 minutes, stirring often. It may be helpful to add a little water and cover with lid to steam. Remove from pan. Set aside.
In the same pan, add the remaining oil and peppers. Saute until golden, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, oregano, and season with salt. Continue cooking for about another 10 minutes.
Add the cooked eggplant and juices to the pepper mixture. Simmer for a few minutes until thick and creamy. Adjust seasonings.
Serve hot or at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Other Serving Suggestions:
Grill slices of Calabrese bread. Rub fresh cut garlic clove on one side and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with peperonata.
Cook pasta according to package. Once cooked, add drained pasta to skillet with simmering peperonata. Add a little of pasta water and toss until thick and creamy. Serve hot with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Serve to accompany grilled meat.
To peel a tomato, wash and cut small “x” to bottom and pierce the skin. Place in pot of simmering hot water for one minute. Remove with slotted spoon and place in ice-water bath. Once cool enough to handle, peel tomato as skin will slip off easily.
When garden-fresh ingredients are available, make generous amounts of peperonata and freeze in convenient portions to enjoy a taste of summer in the winter.