September is here and, for many in the northern hemisphere, the return to work this means autumn is already here. And here in US, last Monday was Labor Day, which. marks the unofficial end of summer.
And yet foodwise September is a transitional, you might even say schizophrenic, month. We are beginning to see autumn produce appear in the markets, but summer vegetables—eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and peppers—are still very much around. And with temperatures well into the 30sC/90sF this past week, it definitely still feels like summer. Definitely not the kind of weather than makes you want to break out the pumpkin spice.
What I am in the mood for is a simple dish of pasta with seasonal vegetables, quickly prepared but full of flavor. And that’s just what this week’s recipe for pasta ai peperoni, Pasta with Bell Peppers, delivers. This recipe is a riff off the classic antipasto of roasted peppers with garlic and anchovy, reimagined as a quick and easy dressing for pasta.
To make things even easier, I usually don’t bother with roasting and just briefly sauté my peppers in garlic and oil until tender, then flavor them with minced parsley, anchovies and capers. That makes it really quick, the kind of pasta dish you can whip up in less than 30 minutes—the time it takes for the pasta water to boil and the pasta to cook.
- 500g (1 lb) penne or other pasta of your choice
- 4-5 bell peppers, trimmed and sliced into strips
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- A few parsley sprigs, stems removed and finely minced
- 2-3 anchovy fillets*
- A handful of capers, rinsed
- Olive oil
In a large skillet or sauté pan, gently sauté the garlic and parsley stems very garlic in abundant olive oil until the garlic is just beginning to brown. Discard the garlic and stems.
Add the sliced bell pepper and a good pinch of salt, turn them in the oil. Cover and let the peppers simmer for about 10 minutes, until nearly tender, stirring from time to time.
Uncover and add the minced parsley, along with the capers and anchovy fillets. Continue simmering uncovered for another minute or two. The mixture should glisten beautifully. If not, add a bit more olive oil. Turn off the heat if need be until the pasta is done.
In the meantime, you cook the penne (or other pasta of your choice) in well salted water until al dente.
Transfer the cooked pasta to the pan along with a ladleful of the pasta water and toss until the pasta is well coated with the sauce and any excess water has evaporated.
Pasta ai peperoni is an easy going dish. You can use any variety or color of pepper you like for your pasta ai peperoni. That said, red bell peppers, or a combination or red and yellow/orange ones as pictured here, would be typical. Red bell peppers in particular provide both sweet flavor and a lovely visual contrast with the pasta. Yellow peppers alone produce a perfectly delicious but rather monotone dish. Green peppers are more economical, but their slightly bitter flavor might not be to everyone’s taste.
You could, of course, use roasted peppers for this dish. It’s an especially good option if you’re bothered by pepper skins. It also gives the peppers a more intense, slightly smoky flavor, bringing the dish closer to the flavor of the antipasto that inspired it. But that does means a few more steps that add perhaps 20 minutes to your prep time.
The typical pasta, as mentioned, is penne but, again this is an easy going dish. You could certainly opt for another short tubular pasta such as ziti, casarecce, gemelli or rigatoni—or even a long one like spaghetti or linguine if you prefer. If you do opt for a long pasta, I’d suggest then slicing the peppers into very thin strips. Speaking of which, here’s a little cook’s trick: try to roughly match the width and (if you’re suing a short pasta) length of the pepper strips to the width of the pasta. Not strictly necessary, of course, and no need for precision, but this makes the dish prettier to look at but also easier to eat.
Many, perhaps most, versions of pasta ai peperoni are ‘red’, or in rosso as Italians say, meaning they include tomato. Sometimes it’s just a bit, in other recipes, such as the one proposed by Francesconi, quite a lot. You add the tomato after the peppers have been simmering for a few minutes and almost tender, then continue simmering for perhaps another 5-10 minutes, until the peppers are fully tender and the tomatoes have reduced. (Personally, I don’t care for the combination of peppers and tomatoes, as shocking as that may be, but it’s a classic combination in Italian cookery.)
In another common version of pasta ai peperoni, you sauté onions along with the peppers instead of starting with the garlic, as if you were making a peperonata. The onions lend an appealing sweetness to the dish. I alternate between this version and the one above, depending on my mood.
If you’d like to add some protein to your pasta, then some canned tuna would go well. Add the the tuna, broken up into chunks, at the very end of simmering your sauce or simply toss it along with the pasta and sauce.
* If you’re vegan, you can easily veganism pasta ai peperoni simply by omitting the anchovies.
Although you will see some recipes for pasta ai peperoni with grated cheese, to my mind, it’s neither necessary nor wanted. Ditto for peperoncini (hot red peppers). In both cases, of course, no one’s going to stop you ….
And finally, there’s a much more ‘refined’ pasta and peppers dish. It’s called pasta alla crema di peperoni, or pasta with a creamy bell pepper purée, and we featured it back in 2020. It’s a dish that uses not only peppers but cream to really lean into the sweetness. A bit more involved, I save that dish for company or a special occasion.
Pasta ai peperoni
- 500g (1 lb) penne or other pasta of your choice
- 4-5 bell peppers trimmed and sliced into strips
- 1-2 cloves garlic peeled and slightly crushed
- a few parsley sprigs stems removed and finely minced
- 3-4 anchovy fillets
- a handful of capers, rinsed
- olive oil
- In a large skillet or sauté pan, sauté the garlic very garlic in abundant olive oil until it is just beginning to brown. Discard the garlic.
- Add the sliced bell pepper and a good pinch of salt, turn them in the oil. Cover and let the peppers simmer for about 10 minutes, until nearly tender, stirring from time to time.
- Uncover and add the parsley, along with the capers and anchovy fillets. Continue simmering uncovered for another minute or two. The mixture should glisten beautifully. If not, add a bit more olive oil. Turn off the heat if need be until the pasta is done.
- In the meantime, you will have cooked the penne (or other pasta of your choice) in well salted water until very al dente.
- Transfer the cooked pasta to the pan along with a ladleful of the pasta water and toss until the pasta is well coated with the sauce and any excess water has evaporated.
- Serve immediately.