Oh Italy, why must you break my heart? We spent the loveliest of two weeks together- drinking wine, taking boat rides to Capri, feeding each other lemon profiterols and slurping linguine while gazing at the deep blue sea. Now that I’m back to the cold, harsh reality of, well, reality (because Italy is too perfect to be anything but a dream), our sun-kissed days in Rome, Tuscany and Praiano seem a lifetime away. As my friend Matt said, “Italy has that affect on you.” Indeed.
Other than the obviously incredible cuisine, glorious architecture in Rome and gut-punchingly gorgeous views of the Amalfi Coast, I found inspiration in the simplicity of life- particularly in Praiano- during our visit. It seemed as if every home in this small town along the Amalfi Coast had a garden; even the ones that didn’t have carefully planted rows of tomatoes and eggplant seemed to have basil, rosemary and zucchini growing wild. And the figs- good God- were literally everywhere, dripping from trees that seemed to be at every turn as we tried not to step on the fruit that had fallen onto all the steps and streets of Praiano. I can’t say for certain, but I’m sure many residents are quite self-sufficient food-wise, going down to the local market for just a few items to cook along with their robust and beautiful homegrown produce.
I’m going to make another assumption and guess that the high-quality of this local produce is why the cuisine we had in Praiano – and Rome and Chianti as well- was so simple. Unbelievably delicious and in need of nothing else, but simple nonetheless. After all, if you have a beautiful slab of certified Wagyu beef, why douse it with bernaise or anything other than a good does of salt and pepper? We had chewy, handmade pasta tossed with just the freshest clams, olive oil and parsley; a margherita pizza where cheese took a backseat to the real star- the tomato sauce. Oh and the tomatoes themselves- blazing red, sweet and luscious- I think we may have had them with almost every meal! On bruschetta, in a caprese, with pasta…there’s no wrong way to eat an Italian tomato.
Although I’m prone to cooking simple, fresh food, I’ve made a vow to be even more committed to the Italian sensibility (shared by many cultures) that less is more when great ingredients are available. I also admired the “something out of nothing” mentality- I mean, what is pasta but flour, eggs and water? What’s a fabulously chewy-yet-crispy pizza crust but flour, yeast and water? It’s all about technique, practice-makes-perfect and appreciating that your hands are as important in creating a good meal as the ingredients. Which brings me to these stuffed peppers.
In Praiano I had a big, yellow bell pepper stuffed with breadcrumbs, capers, olive oil, a few herbs and little else, so I wanted to recreate a smaller version at home. Chances are you have everything on hand to make this tonight, and it’s an inexpensive, simple and delicious bite to enjoy as part of a larger meal (we ate ours with a salad of cannellini beans and Italian tuna plus roasted zucchini and peppers) or as an appetizer with a glass of vino.
Italian Stuffed Peppers a à la Tuna Toast5 small, green bell peppers (or any peppers of your liking really) Olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 cup breadcrumbs 1-2 anchovy filets from a can/jar, mashed OR 1 1/2 teaspoons of anchovy paste in a tube small handful of Italian parsley, finely chopped 1 egg Preheat oven to 400. Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise; clean out the seeds and carefully trim out the veins. Set aside. In a small pan, heat a bit of olive oil, then saute the onions and garlic with just a pinch of salt until translucent. Add the onions/garlic mixture to a small bowl and combine with the remaining ingredients until well combined. This mixture should clump together easily. Fill each half of the peppers with this breadcrumb mixture, packing it in lightly. Oil a sheet pan or shallow baking pan with olive oil, place the peppers cut side up and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the peppers have softened and the tops are golden brown.