Saturday, November 3, 2012

Italian Pepper Salad

Have you noticed the changes in the produce aisles lately? Stone fruits have disappeared, replaced by pomegranates, pears and countless varieties of apples. Piles of winter squash now fill the counters where peppers once dazzled the eye. And when did peppers become such scarce, end-of-the-season items? Whenever it happened, I wasn't ready to drop peppers off my weekly shopping list, not without enjoying a few more pepper salads or pepper frittatas, pepper and sausage pasta suppers or roasted pepper tacos, etc. We eat fresh peppers year-round, but it's not the same when they're picked too early, travel too far and cost too much. 

Autumn pepper salads often begin outside with some charring action on the grill. Not this week. The barbecue has been stored for the season (yes, that's the winter rainy season as opposed to Seattle's spring or fall rainy season). Broiler blistering was an option, but I chose to saute pepper and onion strips in herb-flavored olive oil on the stovetop instead. I keep a small jar of olive oil on the counter near the stove, EVOO mixed with cracked peppercorns, strips of lemon zest, split garlic cloves and a tablespoon or two of minced fresh herbs like rosemary, oregano, etc. The flavored oil adds a noticeable flavor boost to vegies, chicken breasts, pizza dough, grilled bruschetta, etc. It's a small glass jar, almost as decorative as it is useful, and it's surprising how often I reach for a splash of oil - but I digress.Back to the pepper salad. 

Tossed with chopped fresh herbs and splashed lightly with a bit of vinegar, this simple salad improves in flavor as it rests a while, allowing the flavors to blend and mellow. Pepper salad is a perfect accompaniment to grilled  fish and meats, a handy topping for bruschetta, a savory filling for an omelet, and a flavorful addition to a meat or cheese sandwich. Add some olives, a bit of crumbled feta or shaved Parmesan cheese, a few shreds of salami and you have a full meal deal. Enjoy it with fresh French bread or pasta for a hearty lunch. Oh yes, this is definitely a versatile dish with a colorful presentation and a flavor punch.

Italian Pepper Salad

3 sweet bell peppers, cut in thin slices from stem to root end
1 poblano chili pepper (or another sweet pepper), cut in thin slices from end to end
1 medium white onion, cut in thin slices from stem to root end
2 tablespoons olive oil (herb-steeped or add a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs)
1 clove garlic, peeled and pressed or minced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced in thin shreds (or oregano, or a mix)
1 tablespoon capers or green peppercorns, rinsed & drained (optional)
2 tablespoons red vinegar
Additional vinegar, olive oil and seasonings as needed, to taste

  1. Slice the peppers and onion into similar-sized strips. Set aside.
  2. Wash and chop the herbs; prepare the garlic and capers.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat (adding dried Italian herbs if used). Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add the onion slices and cook until softened, translucent but not browned, stirring occasionally. Use a slotted spoon to leave most of the oil in the pan and remove the onions to a serving bowl.
  4. Add half of the peppers to the pan in a single layer and cook until softened, but not browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl holding the onions.
  5. Saute the remaining peppers as above and add with any remaining oil to the bowl.
  6. Sprinkle the cooked vegetables with the chopped herbs and capers (if using). Add the vinegar and toss to combine thoroughly. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper, toss again and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed; add more olive oil and vinegar as needed for dressing.  
  7. Let sit for an hour or more to marinate and blend the flavors. Taste again and adjust seasonings and dressing quantity as needed before serving. If you hold the salad overnight in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature or heat slightly before serving to enhance the flavor.

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