Recipe: Peperonata with Almonds, Thyme, and Pimentón, Served on Ricotta Bruschetta
Peperonata, the roasted sweet pepper dish so popular throughout Southern Italy, is one of my favorite things to eat, and early fall is the best time to make it, when the sweet peppers are warm and ripe and piled high at the Greenmarket. So of course here I am making it now, as every year at this time. Like most dishes I cook a lot, it has evolved through the years to reflect my ever-changing culinary outlook.
When I first started making peperonata I used a lot of sharp and salty flavors, such as capers, anchovies, and olives. That was how I’d often had it served to me in Southern Italy, and it was how my family usually cooked up a batch. Over the years I’ve found I prefer mellower and richer ingredients in it. The peppers themselves provide enough sharpness. In my newest incarnation, I include toasted almonds, fresh thyme, and just a hint of the smoked Spanish chili called pimentón, which adds sweetness and smoke but not much heat. Pimentón comes in both sweet and hot versions. Use the sweet one for this.
Peperonata makes a lovely pasta sauce—I sometimes add it to a simple tomato sauce and toss it with spaghetti—but my favorite way to eat it is on grilled bread, with a smear of ricotta serving as a gentle, luscious base, a flavor juxtaposition that for me encapsulates Southern Italy’s culinary style at its most brilliant.
Try these bruschetta with a glass of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a bright red, pleasantly acidic wine made from a mix of Sicily’s frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes. Valle dell’Acate is a very good producer to look for.
Peperonata with Almonds, Thyme, and Pimentón, Served on Ricotta Bruschetta
(Serves 6 as an appetizer)
5 bell peppers (a mix of red, orange, and yellow will look pretty, but all red will give you the deepest flavor)
Extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of sliced almonds
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
A pinch of sugar
A larger pinch of Spanish pimentón de la Vera, preferably the sweet variety
A few drops of Spanish sherry vinegar
5 large sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
1 1/2 cups ricotta (for link to my homemade ricotta recipe, clicca qui)
12 thin bread slices from a long Italian loaf
Preheat the broiler. Place the peppers on a sheet pan, and broil them about 4 inches from the heat source, turning them as they blacken until they’re well charred all around. Let the peppers cool for a few minutes, and then peel and seed them and cut them into slices.
In a medium skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the pepper slices, almonds, garlic, sugar, and pimentón, and season with salt. Sauté until everything is fragrant and the almonds are lightly golden, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add a few drops of the vinegar, the thyme, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, stirring it all to blend well. Transfer the peperonata to a small bowl. Serve it warm or at room temperature. It’ll keep about 3 days refrigerated, but bring it back to room temperature before serving.
To make the bruschetta:
Toast or grill the bread slices on both sides. Spoon on a heaping spoonful of the ricotta, and top with a spoonful of the peperonata. Serve right away.