Everyone knows about fried peppers—they’re a summertime standby. They make an appearance at just about every Italian cookout or street festival. But while the dish has become something of a cliché, Angelina had her own, special way of preparing them. Her recipe is simplicity itself, with just a few ‘tricks’ that give this old favorite a new lease on life.
- 6 bell peppers (see Notes)
- 1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- A splash of white wine vinegar
- A few tomatoes, chopped up
- Gaeta olives
- Chopped parsley
Start by cutting up the peppers into fairly thin length-wise strips, about 1 cm (1/4-inch) wide, following the directions in our post on “how to slice a bell pepper“. Peel and slice the onion lengthwise as well into strips of the same size.
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onion. Sauté the onion over a moderate flame until it is just beginning to wilt, then add the peppers all in one go.
Without try to mix, cover the pan and lower the heat. Let the peppers and onions simmer gently for a few minutes until the peppers have reduced by a good quarter and softened considerably. Uncover and raise the heat again, not too high, just enough for a moderate sauté.
Mix the onion and peppers together, and sauté over moderate flame until the peppers are quite tender (but not mushy) and ever so slightly browned around the edges. If they start to brown more than you want before they’re done, add a splash of water or white wine vinegar along the way.
When the peppers are just about done, season them with salt and pepper and, if using, mix in the capers and/or olives, then let the peppers sauté for another minute or two.
When the peppers are done to your liking, take them off the heat, cover them, and allow them to cool completely. They taste best when made several hours ahead. When you are ready to eat the peppers, just reheat them gently and serve. They are also quite good served at room temperature.
In Italy, the typical frying pepper are those light green, elongated peppers called friggitelli or friarelli. In the US, you can find a similar vegetable marketed as ‘Italian frying peppers’. You can also use the much sweeter red and/or yellow peppers, either instead of or (as pictured here) mixed in with the green ones; it does make for a lovely sight. (Angelina, being a frugal cook, invariably made her version entirely with the less expensive green bell peppers.)
Angelina’s fried peppers were made with only a bit of onion—say, about one small onion for every 5 or 6 peppers as indicated here. The onions should be sliced from top to bottom; when cut with the grain in this way, the onion slices won’t ‘melt’ entirely. You will find recipes where more onion is called for, sometimes in a 1:1 ratio with the peppers, and this makes for a fine dish as well, especially nice with sausage, I think.
Take it from Angelina: Don’t be shy with the oil. You need to use a lot of oil to get the right flavor and consistency for this dish. Make sure that all the vegetables glisten; if not, add more oil. And use olive oil—no other oil will do. You can remove the excess before serving if you want a lighter dish.
Many recipes for fried peppers call for adding a bit of fresh tomato or tomato purée. I’m not partial to either of these variations, but that’s a matter of personal preference. In her recipe from the classic La cucina napoletana, the doyenne of Neapolitan cookery, Jeanne Caròla Francesconi omits the onion (as well as the tomato and vinegar) but adds black Gaeta olives, capers, garlic and chopped parsley to the peppers shortly before they’re done. She also offers an alternative recipe particularly for frying friarelli in olive oil, just with garlic and peperoncino.
Whatever other ingredients you decide to add to your fried peppers, be sure that you cook the peppers until they are actually done. The Italian way with vegetables is to cook them until they are completely tender—not crisp-tender as in Asian stir-fry or trendy North American cooking. This is particularly important for peppers; they have a completely different taste when they are raw, which some people have described (charitably if you ask me) as ‘tangy’. However you want to describe it, it’s a taste that is not appropriate for this dish. You want the mellow taste that full cooking will give you. Raw peppers, by the way, are also notorious for causing gas, but that’s a whole other story.
Fried peppers go well, as everyone knows, with sausages, but they also go well with just about any roasted or grilled meat you can think of. They also make a very nice filling for a frittata or condimento for pasta.