A lovingly nurtured peperonata – a classic Italian stew of red and yellow peppers, onions and plum tomatoes – is not only a thing of beauty, it’s incredibly versatile. I use it as a salad in the summer; a warming stew in the winter; as a topping on a crispy pizza or bruschetta; stirred into pasta; and as a relish alongside a huge plate of Italian cheeses such as an earthy Pecorino al Tartufo, an aged Provolone and a gentle ricotta salata, some fresh figs and, of course, a glass of crisp white wine. Like risotto, this dish requires a little love; your reward will be a succulent stew of unbelievable sweetness. It’s kind of sexy, especially if you dial it up with a splash of red wine vinegar, some salty capers and black olives. For this dish, I added a few spoonfuls atop of some tangy lemon-infused labneh; the contrast between the youthful audacity of the cheese and the silky veneer of the vegetables was a thing to behold. I served it last night as part of a light mezze supper alongside my shuk hummus, my Lebanese batata harra and some warmed yoghurt-based flatbreads.
A knob of butter
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 large red onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
2 dried chillies (optional)
3 red peppers, seeds and membranes removed, finely sliced
3 yellow peppers, seeds and membranes removed, finely sliced
6 very ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and quartered
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
A splash of red wine vinegar (optional)
A pinch of urfa biber, to serve (you can also use pul biber or crushed red chillies)
How I make it
Add the oil and butter to a large frying pan and allow the butter to melt.
Turn down the heat to medium and add the sliced onion, garlic and, if using, tear in the dried chilli. Allow the onion mixture to sweat for around five minutes to bring out the natural sweetness without colouring.
Add the sliced peppers, cover and allow to cook gently for 15 minutes until they’re soft.
Add the tomatoes (and some rinsed capers and olives, if you fancy it) and allow the strew to cook gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking the tomatoes down against the side of the pan.
Season to taste and, if using, add a splash of red wine vinegar.
Store in a sealed container in the fridge for a week; the longer you leave it, the better it till taste.
To serve, smooth the labneh onto a plate, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and add a few spoons of the peperonata. Sprinkle with the chilli pepper of your choice.