I had a really lovely time in France at the beginning of the week and very much enjoyed eating good French food again, but once home I slipped back into my default cook status in the kitchen and started cooking Italian food again: Polenta with Aubergine, Tomato & Pine Nuts, making a huge ragù yesterday – some of which was packed in single portions to freeze and about half of it went into a lasagna for tonight to share with my son. I also decided I just had to make these Sicilian stuffed vegetables – the recipe, a Diana Henry one in July’s Red magazine, has been staring at me from the dining table for about four weeks. The recipe is actually ‘Sweet and Sour Stuffed Sicilian Peppers’ but I ended up stuffing some tomatoes too. I really like Diana Henry’s recipes and have a couple of her books; Crazy Water Pickled Lemons (a gift from my friend Linda years ago) is a favourite and it also contains one of my family’s favourite ice cream recipes: Lemon & Basil Ice Cream. I always think of stuffed peppers as a Greek dish so was intrigued by these Sicilian ones that have bread as a base rather than rice. Then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, Is this really a Sicilian recipe? To be fair, Henry isn’t someone to mistrust, so well respected is she, but with a Sicilian Italian teacher, many Italian friends, and knowing that should I get it wrong someone was bound to point it out to me in a comment on the blog, I decided to play safe. And I found an almost identical recipe in Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily. So – Sicily it is and these stuffed vegetables are fantastic!
Sicilian Stuffed Vegetables
- 6 red and/or yellow peppers, or 4 peppers and 4 medium tomatoes
- 150g fresh breadcrumbs
- 60g currants or raisins
- 75g toasted pine nuts
- 45g capers, rinsed of salt
- 45g pitted black olives, roughly chopped
- 15g mixed flat-leaf parsley and mint leaves chopped
- 60ml (4 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- salt & pepper
Do use a good country bread, preferably a couple of days old. Mine (from Paul bakery) was a bit too fresh – but I’d been away so hadn’t got slightly stale bread to hand! It didn’t grate finely but was still perfectly fine once cooked. Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and add all the other stuffing ingredients.
Diana Henry uses currants (I only had raisins and they were good) and soaks them for 15 minutes in hot water; I was in too much of a hurry so just threw them in. I didn’t notice a problem with that but you may like to try the soaking if you have time. Mix it all together.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. You can check the taste for although the stuffing is ‘raw’ it’s all edible in this state. It actually tastes really good raw!
Now prepare the vegetables. Diana Henry cuts the peppers in half lengthwise to stuff and cook them, but I decided to keep them whole and just cut off the tops. I did the same with the tomatoes. Then stuff them quite tightly, and right to the top; drizzle over a little olive oil and replace the tops. Drizzle a little more oil over the tops. I find these kind of vegetables fall over easily so I struck upon the idea of crumpling small strips of foil to fit between them to prop them up and that worked well.
Now put them into a 180C/160 Fan/Gas 4 oven. The recipe says 45 minutes to 1 hour but my peppers (as I kept them whole) took 1hr 15 mins. The tomatoes took less time – about an hour. Just check regularly; you want them to retain their shape but be cooked through so a sharp knife slips straight in.
I served one pepper and one tomato warm (better than really hot) with a simple side salad for my supper last night.
The rest I put in the fridge to take to my brother’s today as I’d promised to take some things for a simple lunch, so these were part of my offerings. They were a great success and just as gorgeous cold as warm last night. I loved the sweet and sour combination with the olives, capers and slightly sweet pine nuts. The bread was a great base for the filling and you get lovely crunchy bits on top. Definitely a recipe to be repeated soon!