This simple but flavorful antipasto hails from the prosperous region of Piemonte in northwest Italy. The region has a relatively obscure but fascinating cuisine, perhaps best known for its iconic bagna cauda. This dish, peperoni alla piemontese, or Bell Peppers in the Style of Piemonte, features an anchovy sauce very much like the bagna cauda. But rather than the sauce serving as a dip for raw vegetables, here bell peppers are roasted before a brief simmer in the sauce, allowing the flavors of veg and sauce to meld.
Interestingly, more or less the same ingredients figure in yet another antipasto, peperoni con alici, roasted peppers mixed with whole, uncooked anchovy fillets and dressed with garlic and oil. All three antipasti are delicious but very different one from another. I find it a source of endless fascination that Italian cookery can take essentially the same list of ingredients and, by varying technique and measurements, come up with such variety. The richness of Italian cuisine owes much to this ingenuity.
This is a dish for lovers of bold flavors, especially the briny goodness of the anchovy. Many recipes will assure you the anchovy is only there for the umami and you can hardly taste them. Not so for peperoni alla piemontese. If you have an aversion to anchovies, you might want to avoid this dish. But since I love anchovies, I actually make extra sauce so I can sop it up with a nice hunk of crusty bread. A generous portion of my version of this dish is a one-dish meal.
Serves 4-6 as an antipasto
- 6 bell peppers
- 25 g (2 Tb) butter
- 50 ml (3-1/2 Tbs) olive oil
- 1 whole clove of garlic
- 8 anchovy fillets
Roast the peppers and, when they are cool enough to handle, skin and de-seed them. (See Notes below for details.) Cut the peppers into strips.
Heat the butter and oil in a skillet, then add the garlic and anchovy fillets. Cook over gentle heat for a couple of minutes, until the anchovies have melted, stirring constantly.
Discard the garlic and add the pepper strips. Let them simmer in the anchovy sauce for a few minutes, just long enough so that the flavors meld.
Serve at room temperature.
Notes on Peperoni alla piemontese
The sheer simplicity of this recipe make it very hard to go wrong. The only tricky part to making peperoni alla piemontese is roasting the peppers, but even that isn’t really all that difficult (see below). In a pinch, you could resort to jarred roasted peppers, but do be careful to avoid any marinated or packed in citric acid as a preservative, as many are. They would lend the dish a rather “jarring” acidity to this dish (pun intended).
Otherwise, as always the success of the dish will depend largely on the ingredients, in particular the olive oil and anchovies. For the olive oil, I would actually go for a lighter olive oil, ideally a Ligurian one, rather than an intensely fruity southern oil. As for the anchovies, go for ones packed in salt, if you can find them. They need rinsing and de-boning before use. Otherwise, best quality anchovies packed in oil will do fine. (I particularly like the ones from Agostino Recca. Yes, they are a bit pricey but deliciously plump, worth every penny. )
For a different take on peperoni alla piemontese, rather than simmering the roasted peppers in the sauce, you can arrange them in a decorative arrangement on a serving dish and nap them with the sauce you’ve made separately. It makes for a more elegant presentation perhaps, but I find this method more toothsome. The sauce gets a chance to penetrate into the peppers and, equally, the peppers lend a lovely scent to the sauce as well.
Other dishes by the same name?
Confusingly, there are some other antipasto that go by the same name, including one where roasted peppers are left whole and stuffed with a tunafish purée.
And as a blogger friend has pointed out in the comments, Elizabeth David proposes a recipe for peperoni alla pimontese where you cut the peppers into halves or quarters then top them with garlic, anchovy, butter and oil, then roast them in the oven until they are aromatic but still al dente. David’s recipe provides yet another illustration of the point I was making at the top of the post—same ingredients, but entirely different dish!
How to Roast a Pepper
Roasting bell peppers is one of those basic techniques that every aspiring Italian cook should master. The good news is that it is very simple indeed. It is a matter of applying intense dry heat to the outside of the pepper by grilling, broiling or convection oven-roasting. Or, if you want to be truly traditional, hold the pepper over an open flame, turning it until the skin has blistered on all sides. The pepper is then wrapped up and left to steam for a good ten minutes or more, until the pepper has cooled enough to handle. In the meanwhile, the pepper will have softened and its skin loosened enough to be scraped off with a paring knife or simply rubbed off with your fingers. For details see on post on How to Roast a Pepper.
Peperoni alla piemontese
- 6 6 bell peppers
- 25g 2 Tbs butter
- 50ml 3-1/2 Tbs olive oil
- 1-2 whole clove of garlic slightly crushed
- 8 anchovy fillets or more, to taste
- Roast the peppers and, when they are cool enough to handle, skin and de-seed them. Cut the peppers into strips.
- Heat the butter and oil in a skillet, then add the garlic and anchovy fillets. Cook over gentle heat for a couple of minutes, until the anchovies have melted, stirring constantly.
- Discard the garlic and add the pepper strips. Let them simmer in the anchovy sauce for a few minutes, just long enough so that the flavors meld.
- Serve at room temperature