There have been sweet capsicum peppers in the shops since early May but as their natural season is July through to late September I have not bought any until now. One of my childhood memories of summer is of a house filled with the sweet slightly caramel scent of roasted or fried sweet peppers, a memory that brings a smile to my lips and makes me want to inhale deeply the better to remember. I have at times been so disappointed with out of season - or new hybrid - peppers that have neither scent nor juice that I make sure to wait until it is their proper time. Even then I may be disappointed but the chances of disappointment are much higher with out of season imported or green house grown peppers.
The cuisines of Italy have many ways of cooking these vegetables that speak so eloquently of summer: Peppers may be stuffed with rice, meat, fresh fish or tinned tuna, with breadcrumb based mixes, with ricotta or Mascarpone, with pasta or with diced vegetables. Roasted and peeled they are made into cold dishes where they are combined with parsley and garlic, or capers and tuna, or hard boiled eggs and anchovies. In the Pollo ai Peperoni of Roman cuisine they are pan braised with jointed chicken on the bone, the same procedure but with jointed rabbit in Piedmont's Coniglio con i Peperoni. Not to mention the many sweet pepper pasta sauces of Puglia and Abruzzo. And yes surprise, surprise, "peperoni" in Italian means sweet peppers and not spicy salami.
One of my favourite things to do with sweet capsicums is to make roll ups. Though once again there are many possibilities one of my perennial favourites is the sweet -savory Sicilian filling of capers and currants and pine nuts and anchovy, and this is the recipe I share with you below.
I always use capers, and anchovies preserved in salt because once you wash the salt off, the anchovies taste and smell of the sea, while the capers taste of capers not of vinegar. They require a little preparation but the processes are quick and easy and you will be rewarded with distinctive, wonderfully intense flavours as well as better texture. Salted anchovies stay very soft unlike anchovies preserved in oil which turn hard and a little plastic like,. Capers preserved in salt are firmer and less mushy than their vinegary and somewhat mushy counterparts.
In Italy we buy salted anchovies by specifying the number we need, and the vendor prises them out of the large tins, at least the size of cookie tins, that they are packed in. You can find them in Spanish, Greek and Portuguese delis as well as Italian ones. As for the capers, the smallest are the tastiest, so when I discover a supply of tiny capers preserved in salt I buy lots and stock up.
Involtini di Peperoni alla Siciliana
Sweet Pepper Roll-Ups Sicilian Style(for 6)
3 large yellow or red peppers
2 salted anchovies
a handful of fresh flat leaf parsley
4/5 tablespoons of fresh breadcrumbs
about a tablespoon of capers preserved in salt
about a tablespoon of lightly toasted pine nuts
soaked currants (or sultanas/ golden raisins)
Place the salt preserved capers in a strainer, rinse well then place over a cup or mug under a thin stream of running cold water - they must not sit in salty brine but the water must constantly be changed. Taste after 5 minutes and let the water continue to run until they there is just a hint of saltiness left.
Clean the salted anchovies under running cold water. Rub off the salt and the skin first, then using the water jet and your finger nail prise the anchovy open along the belly and carefully remove the backbone (it is sharp and can cut your fingers) and tail. Check over each fillet for any hard bits and for tiny fine bones removing them by pinching them off if you find any.
Soak the currants in water for at least 10 minutes to soften and the cleaned. Nibble a tiny piece of anchovy and if it seems too salty place for a few minutes in milk to remove traces of excess salt.
Roast the peppers to blacken them on a heavy (cast iron is ideal) ridged pan. Make sure to blacken them slowly and thoroughly so that they are cooked through. Pop into a plastic bag and refrigerate for 10 minutes or more to make peeling easier.
Rub off the blackened skin over a bowl to catch the deliciously sweet roasting juices. Cut into quarters and de-seed.
In a bowl thoroughly mix together the drained and dried currants (sultanas), the chopped anchovies and capers, the finely chopped parsley, the pine nuts and the breadcrumbs.
Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil to help the mix to hold together. The mixture should have a little sheen from the olive oil and it should hold together when you press with your fingers.
Spread a thin layer of filling along the length of each pepper quarter and roll up tight to form a little roll, which you secure with a wooden cocktail stick or bamboo skewer. If it seems too wide, use two cocktail sticks and cut between them to make two roll ups.
Place the finished rolls in a well oiled baking pan and set aside.
When ready to serve, cook at 180° C (350 ° F) degrees for about 15-20 minutes depending how long they have been in the fridge. *
Serve warm or at room temperature as an antipasto or as part of a buffet or light summer's lunch
* In summer I prefer not to bake, except perhaps in the very early morning, so I simply heat the rolls through in a heavy pan on top of the stove without using any oil, turning them over a couple of times. This is how the rolls in the photos were cooked.