The bell pepper may hail from the New World, but Italians have embraced it whole-heartedly. It appears in an extraordinary range of dishes, and you can find a good number of those recipes right here on this blog. But Pasta alla crema di peperoni, or Pasta with Bell Pepper Cream Sauce, is not your typical bell pepper dish.
Most of us probably associate bell peppers with the strong, often smokey, flavors you get when you fry, roast or grill them. But in this recipe you cook them low and slow with onions to bring out their inherent sweetness, then purée them with cream for even more sweetness and a velvety smooth texture.
The resulting crema di peperoni, or bell pepper purée, can be paired with just about any pasta shape your heart desires. And you can make it ahead and keep it in the fridge for up to a week, so it’s a perfect solution for that last minute weeknight dinner.
- 400-500g (14 oz- 1 lb) pasta (see notes)
- 2-3 large red and/or yellow bell peppers, or 400 g (14 oz) mini peppers, trimmed and cut into strips
- 1 medium onion, preferably fresh, thinly sliced
- Olive oil
- Heavy cream, q.b., approximately 250 ml (1/2 cup)
- 50g (2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or more to taste
- Salt and pepper
- A handful of grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- A couple of basil leaves
In a large skillet, sauté the peppers, onions, and, if using, the tomatoes in the olive oil over a moderate flame for about 5 minutes, then add a drizzle of water, lower the heat and cover the skillet partially. Let the vegetables braise until they are perfectly tender, adding more water if things begin to dry out. Take care to avoid any browning. Season the vegetables generously with salt and pepper while they cook.
Transfer the vegetables to a blender or food processor, along with a couple of basil leaves if you have them on hand. Start to blend/process them adding cream in a steady stream until you have a smooth and pourable, but still rather thick, purée. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
Transfer the purée back into the skillet and keep at a very slight simmer, adding pasta water if things get too dry.
Cook the pasta in well salted water until just a bit under the al dente stage.
Transfer the pasta to the skillet with the purée, along with a ladleful of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the purée over a gentle flame until the purée has thickened enough to coat the pasta well. Add grated cheese and toss once more to let the cheese melt into the sauce.
Serve immediately, with additional grated cheese for those who want it.
Notes on Pasta alla crema di peperoni
My main tip for success with this dish: Cook those peppers and onions low and slow, avoiding any browning, to bring out their mellow sweetness to the full. For the same reason, you want to make sure they cook until they are completely tender, without any trace of crunchiness. That will also ensure the peppers will purée into a perfectly smooth “cream”.
Speaking of which, I’d note that the Italian word crema is a false friend. It’s not a reference to the dairy product (which is called panna in Italian) but to the creamy texture. In other words, basically a synonym for “purée”; it can also refer to a class of puréed soups.
You can use red, yellow or orange bell peppers to make your crema di peperoni, or a combination of any of them. And if you have the mini bell peppers as pictured in this post, so much the better. They have a delicate sweetness that’s ideal for this dish. Whatever type you use, make sure your peppers are fully ripe. Avoid green peppers, which are basically unripened peppers, not a separate genus. Their slightly astringent flavor is fine where you need assertive flavor—I love them paired with grilled sausages, for example—but that’s not what you want here.
The crema di peperoni adapts well to any pasta shape, but in my opinion it works best with short pastas like the farfalle pictured here. Penne, rigatoni or casarecce are also fine choices. But you will see recipes for this sauce on long pastas, too, like spaghetti or bucatini. Ultimately it’s a matter of taste.
Variations on this basic theme abound. Some like to use ricotta instead of the heavy cream. If you want a lighter dish, you can replace the cream with some of the pasta water or broth. You can also add more tomatoes, which should provide enough juice for a purée. For a more assertive and less sweet take, you could use roasted peppers, or sub garlic for the onions.
Pasta alla crema di peperoni
- 400-500g (14oz-1 lb) pasta
- 2-3 2-3 large red and/or yellow bell peppers, or 400 g (14 oz) mini peppers trimmed and cut into strips
- 1 medium onion, preferably fresh thinly sliced
- Olive oil
- Heavy cream approximately 250 ml (1/2 cup
- 50g 2 oz Parmesan cheese freshly grated, or more to taste
- Salt and pepper
- A handful of grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
- A couple of basil leaves
- In a large skillet, sauté the peppers, onions, and, if using, the tomatoes in the olive oil over a moderate flame for about 5 minutes, then add a drizzle of water, lower the heat and cover the skillet partially. Let the vegetables braise until they are perfectly tender, adding more water if things begin to dry out. Take care to avoid any browning. Season the vegetables generously with salt and pepper while they cook.
- Transfer the vegetables to a blender or food processor, along with a couple of basil leaves if you have them on hand. Start to blend/process them adding cream in a steady stream until you have a smooth and pourable, but still rather thick, purée. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- Transfer the purée back into the skillet and keep at a very slight simmer, adding pasta water if things get too dry.
- Cook the pasta in well salted water until just a bit under the al dente stage.
- Transfer the pasta to the skillet with the purée, along with a ladleful of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the purée over a gentle flame until the purée has thickened enough to coat the pasta well. Add grated cheese and toss once more to let the cheese melt into the sauce.
- Serve immediately, with additional grated cheese for those who want it.
Is it 250mL of cream or 1/2 cup? They’re not the same. Thanks
It should read 1 cup —but as indicated use as much as you need to form a sauce
Very good and different style pasta sauce. Served it over chicken & cheese ravioli rather than plain pasta and turned out delicious!
Glad you like it, Erin!
This is an excellent recipe. I’ll be making it with olive oil instead of cream next time, just to satisfy my curiosity. So glad to have this recipe. Thank you!
And thank you for your comment, Carol. So glad you like it.
This looks so good, and it’s so different! At least to me. I make purees with roasted red bell peppers, but never sauteed. Love the basil added to the sauce.
I think you’d like this one, Mimi. As you say, it’s a different take on bell peppers from the one most of us are familiar with.
Ah, that makes sense. Thanks, Frank!
Ottima ricetta! Pasta ai peperoni is one of the highlights of summer. I am hoping to make it as soon as I get to Italy. It looks delicious.
Thanks so much, Alida!
Printed to do, exactly as you suggest ! Amazing ! Thank you so much !
Awesome! Hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Peppers and onions is such a great combination. And I love the alternative to cream! Thank you for introducing me to this recipe.
And thank you for stopping by, Jeff!
delicious Frank, to lighten up pasta I also use fresh ricotta instead of bechamel or cream, works beautifully creamy!
Sounds lovely Litizia!
Same question as Kath: am I reading this right? The peppers need to be braised for 5 hours? Hmmm, seems like a rather long cooking time.
You’re reading it right but that’s a typo. 45 minutes…
I made this tonight with Pastificio Faella genovesine. My better half and I both loved it–another great recipe! Only substitution was leeks for onions (couldn’t find fresh onions and thought leeks would be a closer substitution). I think next time I’m going to try swapping the parmigiano I used for gorgonzola dolce, either incorporated into the crema or as a topping.
Sounds really nice, Jesse. I agree that leeks would be really nice here. And who can say no to gorgonzola… ? 😉
I enjoyed this dish so much I made a post on my own blog (with due credit of course). I enjoyed the addition of gorgonzola but it’d probably depend on mood whether I’d use it again. Next time I may try goat cheese.
*smile* In Australia we use a lot of capsicums of all shapes and sizes. In my case they go into many stirfries, often 3-4 times a week, various shashlik-type skewers or are baked stuffed with a dozen different kinds of mixtures. Yes, they even get steamed with Chinese-type fish 🙂 ! I have not pureed your way . . . I can see many ways of making use of that, thank you ! As I do not use cream perchance point two may be my end one 🙂 !
Those all sound delicious, Eha! And if you don’t care for cream, you can indeed make the purée without it quite easily as you saw in the notes. Still very tasty!
That sounds like one of those fantastic old recipes that the Nonnas make, though perhaps without the cream in the old days. It looks delicious!
Thanks! Certainly Angelina never cooked with cream, being from the South she didn’t care much for butter or cream. But I love them both so there you go…
There’s nothing wrong with that! You get the same in Spain. In the dairy regions they use lots of milk and butter, but in the olive regions it’s olive oil.
Frank, this looks so good! I’m thinking my toddler grandson might enjoy it. I’m puzzled, though, by the 5 hours and 45 minute prep time. Does it really take that long?
Sorry, Kath! That was a typo. This takes 45 minutes only… and perhaps even less, depending on how long the peppers take to get soft.
I never knew this was actually a real Italian recipe! I had a recipe from a calendar for lamb chops with a red bell pepper butter sauce from years ago that I made. I loved the sauce so much, I adapted it for pasta!!! Almost the same as yours, but with butter; sooo tasty!
Indeed it is. Not a traditional one, perhaps, but popular enough. And of course, really tasty, which is what counts in the end. 🙂
That’s a neat sauce. I really like the combo of peppers and onion — in fact I’ll bet I make a dish containing that duo at least once a week — but have never used them in a cream sauce like this. I will, though — and in this dish. Excellent recipe — thanks.
Thanks, John! Worth having in your repertoire since it’s so different from the typical peppers and onions dish.
Do you remove the pepper skins before puréeing or just press it through a fine sieve? It’s a beautiful sauce, simple yet delicious!
Personally I usually don’t bother with pepper skins unless I’m roasting them. My blender pulverizes them entirely anyway. But I do understanding some people find them indigestible so peeling would be in order.
This sounds wonderful. It’s frustrating because I have all the ingredients, right down to the options but can’t make it today!
Ha! Well, there’s always tomorrow… 😉
Ciao, Frank! I happened to have 3 large yellow peppers in the fridge, so this was perfect for lunch this afternoon. I didn’t have cream, but I didn’t really need it. I used bucatini, and all in all, the dish was delicious. Also ideal for my 17 month old grandson. Grazie!😋
Sounds delicious, Susie. And glad your grandson enjoyed it. 🙂 You’re right, if the peppers are well cooked, you can certainly skip the cream if you like. Many recipes do, calling for just a bit of pasta water if needed be, a few more tomatoes (for the juice) or broth.
This is the pasta sauce for me. I love peppers and they are in season now! Thanks for sharing! Paola
And thank you for stopping by, Paola!
Frank, we love grilled peppers so this will suit us wonderfully. I love the low and slow cooking method for the peppers and onions and will be giving this one a try.
Hope you guys like it, Ron!
My husband, Roman born, doesn’t digest pepperoni. However if carefully cleaned of all its seeds and inner pith and skinned AND cooked with a Bay Leaf or two he has no problem digesting them. This is a not uncommon Roman “usanza”. His mother made sure I knew about this as her son has a delicate stomach. It works. Mamas know best.
Great tips! I always clean my peppers of seeds and pith, but I have to admit I’m usually too lazy to deal with the skin. I don’t have any problems with them, though I know the many people find them indigestible.