Polenta with Peperonata – Recipe

Polenta with Pepperonata
Polenta with Peperonata

Peperonata is one of the most luscious things you can make from humble ingredients. First you slowly roast bell peppers, then stew them with sofrito and onions until you’ve got a meltingly rich sauce that goes anywhere from antipasto to panini, and it is phenomenal over polenta.

If you aren’t familiar with sofrito, it is simply a long-cooked sauce of onions, garlic and tomatoes. Actually, that is the definition in Spain. The same basic cooking method is used in many countries, with many variations. For example in Cuba, it would have green bell peppers, and in much of the rest of the Caribbean it would include annatto and pig. And really the method isn’t much different than the one used in many Indian recipes where you start with a paste of onion and ginger mixed with spices.

The version of sofrito I have in today’s recipe is what I call “cheater sofrito” because I use tomato paste instead of whole tomatoes. That gives you a huge head start on removing the liquid and getting browned flavors. I only made enough to proceed with the peperonata, but you could easily double or quadruple the sofrito part and freeze the leftovers to get you started on any number later meals.

I didn’t include the polenta in the recipe below, because it is simpler just to link to my preferred methods. If you have a pressure cooker, I love the basic method from Hip Pressure Cooking, adding plenty of grated Parmesan, milk and butter to finish it. It is quite a bit less work and comes out perfectly creamy, every bit as good as on the stovetop. If you prefer to make it on the stovetop, see this more traditional method.

Peperonata (delicious over polenta)
Vegetarian, gluten free, kosher, and optionally vegan
Serves 4

  • 8 ripe bell peppers (any combination of red, yellow or orange)
  • 1 large or 2 medium white onions
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra for garnish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons double-strength tomato paste (or 6 tablespoons of regular tomato paste)
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • Fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • Handful flatleaf parsley
  1. Preheat over to 400. Cut the tops and bottoms off the bell peppers and reserve for another use. Cut in half vertically and remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Place the peppers cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the skins are well blistered, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a covered bowl and allow to cool. Peel off skins and tear or cut the peppers into approximately 1/2″ wide strips. Save all of the liquid from the bowl and the baking sheet!
  2. Meanwhile, while the peppers are roasting, make the sofrito. Puree the white onion and garlic in a blender.  Put the olive oil in a large, non-reactive (i.e. not cast iron) skillet over medium heat. Don’t use a non-stick pan. Fry the pureed onion, scraping the bottom of the pan frequently, until the water cooks off and the onion is well browned; lower the heat if needed to avoid any burning. Add the salt and tomato paste and cook, scraping frequently for about 10 more minutes, until the sofrito is fairly uniform and a dark rusty brown and turn off the heat.
  3. Add the onion, vinegar, peppers and reserved liquid from the peppers. Set the heat to medium low, and scrape the pan to loosen all those delicious brown bits into the sauce. Cook until the red onions are fully softened, about 15 minutes. You can add a small amount of water if needed.
  4. Just before serving stir in the black pepper and parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve over polenta, finishing with a bit more extra-virgin olive oil.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, March 21st, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

20 Responses to “Polenta with Peperonata – Recipe”

  1. March 21, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I had a lot of dished that used sofrito in Cuba over the winter… I had never made it or even really consciously knew what it was. When I came home and started trying my hand at some Cuban recipes I figured it out. They didn’t have polenta in Cuba, so I am curious to try out these two flavors together!

  2. March 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    What a versatile sauce! I can picture it used for any number of applications. And they all sound mouthwatering. I don’t own polenta, but grits by any other name… :)

  3. March 22, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Sounds amazing. I’ll have to make this… I can’t believe I haven’t made it yet. Love all the ingredients.

  4. Jennifer
    March 27, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    What happened?? I made this and something went terribly wrong. When I blended the onion and garlic(I used yellow onion, not white) and added it to the olive oil, it looked fine. But after a few minutes of cooking, it turned green! I continued cooking it until it turned brown, then proceeded with the recipe. When done, it tasted bitter, really inedible. I should have stopped when I saw green, instead of wasting all the peppers I had prepared. Now I think I’d better chuck the whole mess. Any ideas of what went wrong?

    • March 27, 2012 at 8:50 am #

      My first guess is that you cooked it in a cast iron pan? You never want to cook anything acidic like tomatoes in cast iron, it will react and I believe turning green is the classic sign. I’ll add that note to my post, and sorry I didn’t think to mention it before! Stainless steel or enamel coated cast iron is the way to go for this kind of thing.

  5. Jennifer
    March 27, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    No, I used a Le Creuset enameled braiser….

    • March 27, 2012 at 9:27 am #

      Hmm. Well it shouldn’t be that then, unless the enamel is heavily scratched allowing a lot of iron in. I haven’t seen this happen myself. I did find these references: link to chowhound.chow.com, link to cooking.stackexchange.com but they only address the color, not an unusual bitterness. Anyone else have other ideas for Jennifer? I guess my next thought is that maybe the color and the bitterness were unrelated, and the garlic simply burned creating the bitterness. Looking at the recipe I called for medium-high heat but I think maybe medium would be a more appropriate recommendation. I’ll change it, and sorry for the inconvenience!

    • PS
      September 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

      Hello Jennifer, I am not much of cook, but from all indian cooking I have done, basic is never puree raw onion, they tend to be bitter. My all inidan curry taste improved with that simple change(pureeing onion after sauteeing) I loved the receipe, but that was the only change I was planning to make

  6. Kelly
    April 2, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    If we don’t want to use tomato paste, would canned tomatoes like San Marzanos be usable? I have an entire case of them. How much would you recommend using? Thanks!

    • April 2, 2012 at 8:05 am #

      Absolutely! I’d use a 15 ounce can for a single recipe, breaking them up well if they are whole tomatoes, and expect the cooking to take significantly longer since there is more liquid to cook off.

  7. April 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    This recipe is calling for me to make it. Looks delish. How do you come up with your recipes? Experimentation or starting from a recipe and improvising?

    • April 6, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

      Hey Joann – I think it is a little bit of all of the above! I’ve been in love with food for so long, and I’m always reading about it, thinking about it, shopping for it, eating it… so I think there are always ideas to mash-up, remix, and occasionally a spark of something different. And of course lots of things don’t work, or don’t work well enough to be worth writing about.

  8. May 15, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Thanks for the polenta recipe. It seems the changes you made didn’t affect the final outcome too much.

  9. emili
    December 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    ok, im in the process of doing this now, my peppers have not rendered any precious liquid into the baking pan tho. ???

    • December 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      How long have they been roasting for? In any case, it isn’t a problem if you don’t end up with any roasting juices, I just want you to save and use any you do get since they are delicious.

  10. Emili
    December 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    I think they were in for about an hour. The sauce turned out amazing, but the red onions stayed quite raw. I had them in for more than ten minutes, maybe I needed to slice them thinner? Also, do u have any suggestions for the polenta without all the delicious cheese & butter? My husband can’t do cheese :( I put some on top of my serving but I’m afraid it’s going to be bland when he gets home and eats it without :(

    • December 21, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

      I think if the red onions were a bit raw, then yes you either needed to slice them thinner, turn the heat up a bit higher, or cook them longer. As far as polenta without the cheese and butter, it will still be pretty tasty as long as you make sure it is piping hot with enough water whisked in to avoid it being too thick or lumpy. Maybe add some olive oi.

  11. Alana
    December 28, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    Happy new year, Michael! Oddly enough, I also got the bitter and green reaction when I cooked the pureed onions and garlic, and I was using a stainless steel frying pan. I started again, and took PS’s advice and sauteed minced garlic and onion before pureeing it, which worked out fine. Very mysterious! The end result was delicious though, and I am excited to have polenta in the repertoire now.

    • December 28, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

      Interesting! Well, to me that means it must be an enzymatic reaction then, and the pre-heating step is inactivating the enzyme. I’ll ask Chris Young, he’ll know.

  12. Marsha
    March 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    I’m a bit late to the party, but… I also used yellow onion, garlic, and olive oil. When I started cooking it, on medium, it also turned green but I ignored it. When I started smelling the odor of overcooked garlic, I turned the heat way down to low. Took forever to cook up the sofrito but nothing burned and no bitter taste.

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