Rachel Roddy’s recipe for peperonata with sausages
Stored well, some seeds can last centuries, apparently. I am certain that sitting for four years upright in a box with postcards, bank statements and business cards, and under a lamp, isn’t good storage. But, like the business cards I may need one day, I can’t throw away the basil, courgette, thyme and red pepper seeds, or get around to planting them. So they sit, waiting, their corners getting knocked into dog ears. They don’t go unnoticed; the packet that catches my eye most is peperone rosso di Cuneo, which has on it a photograph of a pepper so red, it seems to have black stripes; it’s also square, like a weightlifter’s jaw. The packet promises seeds of a vigorous, gourmet variety producing large fruits with firm, exceptionally thick flesh and an intense, sweet flavour. Every time I read this, I want to eat peppers, to crunch on raw strips. Also to go for a swim, so my flesh is as firm and vigorous as a pepper from Cuneo (which, incidentally, means “wedge”), a city and a commune in south-west Piedmont.
Cultivation of the cuneo pepper is relatively recent, dating to the early 1900s, the result of an affair between a local variety and the large, lobed one from farther south. It may be recent, but it’s now established and responsible for some of the most tempting red and yellow pepper recipes, especially antipasti and sauces. I have bookmarks everywhere. Antipasti di peperoni – softly stewed peppers with anchovies. Bagnet ross, a sauce made with red peppers, tomatoes, onions, vinegar, anchovies and mustard seeds, to serve with meats or hard-boiled eggs. Cipollata rossa Monferrina made with soft robiola cheese and pepper for spreading on toast; tongue with sweet-and-sour pepper sauce; pickled peppers; and three sorts of peperonata, one with sausages, which is this week’s recipe, from a Slow Food-produced book called Osteria: 1,000 Generous and Simple Recipes from Italy’s Best Local Restaurants and a chef called Pier Antonio Cucchietti, from Stroppo in Cuneo. Of course, the peppers can come from anywhere, and you need two red and two yellow. When picking peppers, Jane Grigson suggests they should be smooth and slick, with a glossy brightness. Good advice, but I have also made this with older, wrinkled peppers, and it was great.
Simon Hopkinson often adds a slice of butter to stewed peppers, towards the end of cooking, which is delicious and makes them shine. Now that the weather is hot, I think this is best served at just above room temperature, which means it can also be made in advance. In summer, I can easily eat it once a week, with crusty bread, a green salad and plenty of chilled red wine.
Peperonata with sausages – peperonata con la salsiccia
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and squashed (but left whole)
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt and black pepper
2 red peppers, trimmed, deseeded and cut into thick strips
2 yellow peppers, trimmed, deseeded and cut into thick strips
6 ripe tomatoes, or 1 x 400g tin whole plum tomatoes
8 good pork sausages
Red-wine vinegar – optional
A pinch of sugar – optional
In a heavy-based pan on a medium-low heat, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil with a pinch of salt, until the onion starts to soften and turn translucent. Add the peppers, stir for a minute or two, then cover the pan and cook for 15 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring every now and then, until peppers soften and give off liquid.
If you are using fresh tomatoes (and can be bothered), peel them by plunging into boiling water for a minute, then cold, at which point the skins should slip off easily, then roughly chop; if using tinned, crush them. Add the tomatoes to the peppers and leave to cook, uncovered, at a steady bubble for 30-40 minutes, until the peperonata is soft, rich and thick. Season to taste.
In a separate pan, fry the sausages in a little oil until they are well-coloured and almost cooked through, then tip into the peppers so they can finish cooking – the best way to see if the sausages are cooked through is to cut one in half and taste. Some recipes suggest cutting them all in half, so the peperonata can take hold. You decide. . Season again to taste, adding a little vinegar and/or sugar if the sauce needs balancing, then serve.