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
- 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
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.