“Blessed be the stuffed peppers! what a clever thing they are!…What are they made of? Not much: peppers, bread, a couple of aubergines cooked ‘fungitiello‘ style (i.e. deep fried), a handful of capers and Gaeta black olives, some anchovies and, let’s not forget, a pinch of oregano and parsley, a clove of garlic and few bits of tomatoes. And from these humble ingredients, a masterpiece is born: one of those dishes that makes your mouth water just thinking about them.
Let’s be clear though: the stuffed pepper must be prepared properly, otherwise, if the bread is mushy, if the aubergines were not fried right, if the peppers were not well roasted, if, last, the ratio of stuffing to pepper is not exact, you will only end up with a pappy, boring, inedible concoction.
It is preferable to eat the stuffed pepper cold, maybe the following day after cooking it: the flavours will have had the time to merge and, at the same time, to stand out. As you savour it, you must be able to taste the anchovy in one mouthful and the aubergine the next; you must be able to taste the oregano, the caper, the olive and you will appreciate the flavour coming from the different ingredients merging with the pepper’s juices.”
This is how Jeanne Carola Francesconi, who wrote the definitive book on Neapolitan cooking, describes this splendid summer dish. If you read Italian, do get (preferably) the first edition of the book – a real treasure. There are many versions of stuffed peppers, but I would like to give you Francesconi’s iconic recipe: a somewhat laborious recipe, but a splendid one.
These are the ingredients as listed by Francesconi, the wording of the recipe is my own. See also my comments in the notes.
I peperoni ripieni alla napoletana di Jeanne Carola Francesconi – Jeanne Carola Francesconi’s stuffed peppers Neapolitan style
12 large peppers
aubergines 1.25kg cubed small
Capers 50g, rinsed
Black olives from Gaeta 100g, stoned
anchovies 100g, either salted or in oil, boned if necessary, well rinsed
1 clove of garlic, grated
1 clove of garlic, whole
dry oregano, to taste
a bunch of parsley, finely chopped
breadcrumbs, 3 heaped tablespoons of Italian style breadcrumbs, i.e. lightly toasted and finely grated
extra virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, cut up in pieces (they do not need to be peeled, I used a handful of baby plum tomatoes)
salt and pepper
First you must skin the peppers. Francesconi suggests either frying them in a little oil, over high heat, or roasting them in the hottest possible oven. I prefer to roast them over a high flame on the stove, using a metallic mesh, turning them often. Whatever method you choose, it is important not to overcook them: the aim here is to char the skin so that it can be removed. If you wait until the peppers are uniformly and completely charred, they will be overdone and too soft. Cool them and remove the skin.
In order to stuff them, you can now either slice the top off each pepper or create a slit in the main body. In either case, remove the pips.
Next you have to prepare the aubergines. Francesconi goes all traditional of course and she fries hers in plenty of oil. If you do so, salt the aubergines beforehand and let them steep for at least half an hour: Francesconi does not say this, but it makes the difference because salted, rinsed, squeezed and dried aubergines soak up less oil when fried. I prefer to roast them in a medium-hot oven (180 C), in an aluminium lined tray, drizzling them with oil, mixing and moving them around them a couple of time (no pre-salting is necessary). Cool them.
Fry the whole clove of garlic in 50g of oil and remove it when it is lightly golden; add the breadcrumbs and let them take some colour and flavour. Add the olives, capers, tomatoes, oregano, parsley, the grated garlic and a little black pepper. Cook on very low heat for a few minutes only and remove from the heat and add the anchovies and the chopped parsley. Check for salt.
Divide the stuffing into 12 portions and stuff the peppers.
Place them in a large, oiled dish in a single layer, drizzle with oil and bake in a medium oven for 30-45 minutes.
Eat them at room temperature. They are even better the following day
Note how little garlic is used: this is very italian
I like to place some bits of tomatoes in between peppers and to shower the dish with breadcrumbs before baking