Roasted Red Peppers; The Deal Sealer

A long long time ago, in a town that little resembles the town that it once was then; I took my wife-to-be on our first date. At that time there were only a few pretty good restaurants in the area and only a couple of very good ones. Our first date was to be a very cute little family owned and run Italian place.

This was when I discovered that one of the foods that was near and dear to my heart (and stomach) had never experienced by my future betrothed NOR was she feeling any deep need or care to try them.

Well that answer just didn’t work for me… she HAD to at least TRY them.

So I ordered.
And she tried.
And then I had to apologize.

You see, as much credit as the little Italian place got for having roasted peppers on the menu, they were not what I had talked them up to be. Without going into specifics, let’s just say that I was nervous that I would never get another chance to introduce Courtney-hail-from-the-meat-and-potatos-midwest-by-way-of British-ancestry to the sensuous and comforting foods of the Italian peninsula…not to mention another date.

The date must have gone well enough because later that summer I had the opportunity to make roasted peppers for her myself.  I still recall meticulously picking out those peppers from a North Market farmer’s stall…slicing and roasting them to perfection…drizzling the plate with the perfect amount of Italian olive oil.

I am happy to report that I was victorious!! Courtney fell head-over-heels in love with those peppers while simultaneously falling in love with me! (Okay, maybe I am ahead of myself there…)

Over the years, this became a signature dish for us as a couple. We served them at summer parties large and small.  Sometimes we would have the peppers as an appetizer, sometimes as an accompaniment to a risotto al’asaparagi or summery lemon pasta- but always with the best olive oil we could find.

To make the peppers do the following:

Get good ripe red peppers.  If you want to add a few yellow peppers for color that would be nice too. (Green peppers simply do not exist for me. They are unripe red peppers. They are not really food yet, so leave them alone.)

Place the peppers on a rack in an oven set to at least 475 degrees. Alternatively you can place them under the broiler on a rack about 8” from the top.  Either way you will want a pan under the peppers to catch any liquid that drips out. The peppers can be done in an outdoor grill too, with good effect.  I say “in” a grill as opposed to on the grill because if you use an outdoor grill you should put them on a rack that is raised, or placed away from the direct heat.

Cooking is not so much by time as by appearance. The skins should be largely darkened- even blackened. This does not mean that there is no red or yellow fruit showing, but these babies need to be cooked.

Turn the peppers a few times to make sure that they are cooked/charred on all sides.  The peppers should be puffed up in the oven but you should find that as soon as you lift them out they will collapse easily. You can test this while they are in the over by poking them gently.  We want them soft but firm enough that they are going to hold together.

When they look right remove them from the oven and put them directly into a large paper bag. Close the bag tightly. This is going to steam them just a bit, and you should find that due to this the skins will come off easily.

When they are cooled enough that you can handle them easily remove the skins with you hands. Most of the skin should, and needs to, come off but I have never made a fuss if a little bit of the skin sticks. This is your call.

Now cut a little circle around the stem at the top and scoop out the seeds. At this point I usually slice the peppers into about three equal sized parts. You can vary this depending on their use. Long thin slices make a pretty ingredient in a salad, or meat dish. For serving roast peppers as an antipasto I like three equal parts.