“I feel like I’m back in Italy,” Tony proclaimed as he savored this week’s featured recipe, Roasted Peppers with Capers and Anchovies, or what I’ve named Peperoni (Italian for peppers) di Rosangela.

This was exactly the reaction I’d hoped to elicit when creating this new recipe, inspired by our recent visit to Sicily this summer.

During our two weeks in southern Sicily, we were treated to several sumptuous feasts hosted by various members of our Sicilian family. We enjoyed a multitude of classic Sicilian dishes, many of which we are now attempting to recreate in our own kitchen.

During one of these occasions, we were invited to lunch by Tony’s cousin, Nino Santacroce, and his wife, Rosangela, which would take place two days later at their family home near the sea. Going to the sea is the Sicilian equivalent of going to the lakes, and many residents own or rent a summer retreat right on some of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful beaches.

For an easy appetizer, serve Peperoni di Rosangela on a platter with toasted ciabatta and basil-marinated fresh mozzarella cheese. David Samson / The Forum
For an easy appetizer, serve Peperoni di Rosangela on a platter with toasted ciabatta and basil-marinated fresh mozzarella cheese. David Samson / The Forum

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After extending the invitation, Rosangela fretted openly about what she would serve us, noting the fact that she would be hosting a professional chef and a food writer and declaring that she only had one or two specialties in her arsenal. An oppressive heat wave was ripping through Europe at the time, and we welcomed this opportunity to cool down at the beach and just relax.

Rosangela could have served us hot dogs and we’d have been happy there. Fortunately, Rosangela’s fears were unfounded as she, Nino and their daughter, Roberta, turned out a feast that would rival any Sicilian table.

We started with a veritable smorgasbord of antipasti (appetizers), which included a dish of stewed sweet-and-sour peppers, tomatoes, capers and anchovies that inspired today’s featured recipe.

Food and cooking are an integral part of Sicilian culture, with recipes and techniques handed down over generations. This tradition yields dishes which are rich, varied, beautiful and delicious, but are rarely accompanied by an actual recipe.

Bell peppers are sliced in half and seeded, then stuffed with a savory mixture of cherry tomatoes, anchovies and capers. David Samson / The Forum
Bell peppers are sliced in half and seeded, then stuffed with a savory mixture of cherry tomatoes, anchovies and capers. David Samson / The Forum

Fortunately, Sicilian cuisine follows a simple approach, using only ingredients that are fresh and in season, and as few of them as possible, to create dishes that are memorably delicious. This practice makes it easier to identify the individual components of a dish when recreating it here at home, where only our collective memories serve as a guide.

Without a recipe to follow, I did my best to remember the flavors of Rosangela’s stewed peppers and made a few variations along the way. Instead of chopping up and stewing the peppers, I decided to halve them and fill them with a chunky sauce made with the remaining components.

I roasted the stuffed peppers in the oven until they were hot and bubbly, then served them to my test subjects, Tony and our son, Gio, who were unaware of the inspiration for this new dish. “These remind me of those peppers Rosangela made for us at the beach,” Gio said after his first few bites, which was just the response I wanted.

Every bite of Peperoni di Rosangela is bursting with the tangy, sweet and savory flavors that define Sicilian cuisine, and we will fondly remember our day at the beach as we enjoy this new family favorite for years to come.

Celebrate the colors of summer with this easy recipe featuring classic Italian ingredients, including bell peppers, tomatoes, capers and anchovies. David Samson / The Forum
Celebrate the colors of summer with this easy recipe featuring classic Italian ingredients, including bell peppers, tomatoes, capers and anchovies. David Samson / The Forum

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Peperoni di Rosangela (Roasted Peppers with Capers and Anchovies)

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients:

4 bell peppers (2 red, 2 orange, if available)

3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons capers, drained

Optional serving suggestion: Sliced mozzarella marinated in extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil ciabatta bread, cut into slices and lightly toasted.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and veins from each half and place halves on a baking sheet, cut side up; set aside.

In a medium bowl, use a wooden spoon to mash the chopped anchovies into a paste. Add the olive oil, vinegar, black pepper, oregano, salt and red pepper flakes and stir until well combined. Add the halved tomatoes and capers and gently toss until evenly coated. Cover bowl and let mixture rest for 30 minutes. The marinade may be prepared without the tomatoes and capers up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.

Use a slotted spoon to fill each pepper half with the tomato mixture, draining off any excess liquid. Save the remaining liquid to serve for dipping with crusty bread.

Place baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake at 375 degrees until the edges of the peppers begin to char and the juices are hot and bubbly, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and serve with slices of toasted ciabatta bread and basil-marinated fresh mozzarella. Leftovers may be refrigerated for 1 to 2 days and reheated in the oven at 375 degrees until hot, about 10 minutes.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • The tomato mixture may also be served as a topping with fish and bruschetta or tossed with warm pasta.
  • To toast the ciabatta, brush 1 side lightly with olive oil and bake at 375 until light golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Serve warm.
  • To marinate the mozzarella, place the slices in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped into thin strips. Gently toss to combine and serve immediately or refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.