Peperonata ✫ Star of the Antipasti Platter

Last evening we hosted an Italian dinner party for two other couples, and I’ll be working my way through the menu items over the next few posts. For many years, Italian food was a special occasion staple in my kitchen, but less so in recent years as I’ve been exploring other food traditions. It was a pleasure to return to Italian cooking; it felt like home!

I planned a menu with five courses. That’s not as ambitious as it sounds, because for the most part I was cooking food that was familiar to me. And, I used some strategies to make this dinner party easy on me, such as some cooking ahead, using a slow cooker for the stew and including a couple of menu items that took little effort. Planning ahead and having pre-minced garlic, chile and herbs set out in advance so they were to hand when I needed them was important too. I had also set out the dishes for each course on a side counter in the kitchen, and that was another big help in keeping the evening moving smoothly. Finally, it was good to have assistance with the serving; I plated the dishes and the CE served them to our guests. We were a well-(olive) oiled team, and as each course was cleared we stacked the dirty dishes neatly on a counter out of view of the dining room.

All these strategies allowed me to spend a good amount of time with our guests, enjoying their excellent company. The Culinary Enthusiast said I wasn’t in the kitchen too long at any one time, and no one was asking where I was or feeling they needed to step in to help. I was quite relaxed actually, and that’s important for making your guests feel comfortable. After all, it’s hard for your company to enjoy themselves if the hosts seemed frazzled!

Italian Dinner Party for Six 

(each line was served as a separate course)

Antipasti Platter Featuring Peperonata

Pasta with Garlic, Chile and Lime

Spezzatino di Maiale (Pork Stew) With White Bean Mash

Romaine, Radicchio and Tomato Salad with Parmesan Shavings

Trio of Desserts: Panna Cotta, Amaretti and Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Most of the recipes for this meal came from my trusty Italian cookbook Rustic Italian Cooking by Kathleen Sloan. I’ve been turning to this book for about 12 years now, ever since I became enamoured of the Tuscan lifestyle and Italian food. I haven’t made it to Italy yet, but cooking this food is the next best thing!

As the appetizer course, served in the living room as our guests began to get to know each other, I created an antipasti platter. It included a variety of olives, mini bocconcini with olive oil and pepper, shaved proscuitto, mild Genoa salami, crostini and a bowl of Peperonata.

I made the Peperonata in the afternoon, and let it cool to room temperature for serving. It was easy to make, and is a medley of onion, garlic, peppers and tomatoes that meld into each other through slow cooking, creating an almost jam-like consistency. The flavours of the vegetable ingredients were complemented by the sweet tanginess of balsamic vinegar.

I am so glad I tried this recipe. Not ony did it make an excellent topping for the crostini, but I can think of many other uses for it — as a side dish for pork or chicken, condiment-style for a sandwich and more. Today I used the refrigerated leftovers in our breakfast, but I’ll tell you more about that another time.

Peperonata (Sauteed Peppers, Tomato and Onion) 

Recipe slightly adapted from Kathleen Sloan’s Rustic Italian Cooking. Serves 4 to 6. I left out one red onion and one red pepper as I didn’t need such a large quantity, and substituted a yellow pepper for green since I don’t care for green peppers. This made enough for guests to top crostini, with the leftovers being a major component of today’s breakfast.

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 large ripe plum tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used tomatoes I froze in September)
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (you could also use red wine vinegar)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 10 minutes). Add the sliced peppers and stir to coat with oil. Add more olive oil if required. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened and beginning to brown. Add the tomatoes, parsley, vinegar and salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 more minutes, stirring from time to time. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

27 comments

  1. Oh, you are indeed a well olive-oiled machine! It always goes much smoother when everything is organized.. thank you for the tips and suggestions. This looks like the perfect full flavored beginning to a wonderful evening. I can’t wait to see the rest:) xx

    • I find the cooking is the easy part … it’s the orchestration of the meal while giving off an aura of serenity that’s the challenge! I’m getting there, though (if not serenity, then at least an absence of anxiety 😊). I do hope you’ll like the rest of the meal too.

      I must say, one of the benefits of throwing a dinner party is that I’m going to get about six posts out of one day of cooking. Efficient, eh?

    • Wow, that’s quite the compliment – thank you! Gordon Ramsay is such a talented chef. Of course, he also has an extraordinarily colourful vocabulary. I like to think of myself as fairly colourful, but not quite like that! 😉

      • I really don’t know how he gets away with it. I cringe all through his programs. He could learn a great deal about good manners from you, my dear friend…I think he skipped that class.

      • I agree … I can’t watch some of his shows as I can’t stomach how abusive he is toward people Yet in other programs, I’ve seen a kinder, gentler side. I read his autobiography a few years ago which gave some interesting perspectives on the man. I think if he could just control the ego and the temper, he could go so much farther toward making his mark.

      • I agree! And have you noticed that on the “food” channels there are so many of those competitive series – all very abusive. There has been a real change from “Yan Can” and Emeril” To me, breaking bread is about giving and receiving – not on kicking someone off a show. Just saying…

      • I like some of the competition shows where the focus is on the food and the creative challenge. Top Chef Masters is a good example where the competitors usually have great respect for each other, and I also like Chopped, where there just isn’t time for anything but the food. Then again, there are others I won’t watch.

        I have noticed that there are fewer shows about actually cooking, and more about how food is produced and also about eating. I realize I’m not part of the demographic food network is aiming toward these days. But, there still are shows that I can turn to to learn skills and recipes to use in my kitchen. Anna Olsen’s new baking show is just one that comes to mind.

  2. That was some meal you prepared, Mar! Love peperonata. It is such a great dish and serving it atop crostini is perfect. Truth be told, I always make extra. Come breakfast, it’s the basis for a very good frittata, while at lunch it’s perfect with grilled sausages. Looking forward to the rest of the recipes from that dinner. 🙂

    • It was so much fun to cook a whole Italian meal, and the guests seemed to enjoy all the dishes, even if I did make the pasta course about twice as spicy as I’d intended. Oh well, that woke everybody up 😊

      I’m completely a fan of peperonata now. Funny, I’ve used garlic, onion, peppers and balsamic as a base for a lot of dishes over the years, but never quite took it to this level. So delicious! Love the idea of using it in a frittata. I used my leftovers in a different egg dish that I’ll blog about before long, but first, the rest of the recipes from the dinner!

  3. I love it when a county’s cuisine feels like home…reminds you that food nourishes the soul as well. Have you ever read Kathleen Sloan’s book A Year In Niagara? I hope my memory serves me correct that she is the author …but it is a wonderful cookbook (although no photos).

    • Yes, I have A Year in Niagara too. It’s a wonderful exploration of a region rich in wine and food. I have the feeling that you and I have a lot of similar books on our shelves!

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