I first got the idea for this starter from the FT many years ago and it has been a standby recipe for me ever since – you can cook it for any number of people (as it happens more than thirty the last time I used it); it looks wonderful; it’s easy; it keeps warm; it’s not expensive; fine for vegetarians; a couple of them will make a great lunch; the double redness of them (and the heart shape of the pepper) makes them perfect for Valentine’s Day….. So I was very surprised to discover a few months ago that it first appeared, in print at least, in Elizabeth David’s Italian Food as ‘peperoni alla Piemontese’.
It takes courage to say one thinks one might have improved on Mrs David’s method, nevertheless I really do think that serving these peppers hot (or at least warm) is a great improvement. That may have something to do with the fact that I almost always cook them in the cold, grey and damp atmosphere of England. Dipping the bread into the fragrant warm dressing is a true pleasure.
Nor do I think that anchovies are essential (although it might be interesting to experiment with a little Patum Peperium) – smoked salt does fine.
And much as I like green peppers (go to green peppers) I think they are not sweet enough for this recipe – even with red peppers I like to add honey, although in an ideal world I would use Sardinian bitter honey which has an extraordinary taste of burnt toffee, but in a good way – you can buy it from Miele Dimauro. My second-best choice would be chestnut honey (also hard to source), with realistic runner-up in third place being thyme honey.
The pink Martini adds a sort of resiny flavour which stops the dish from becoming too sweet.
At Clarke’s restaurant in London they add mozzarella.
• 3 LARGE red peppers (if they are not large enough you will not get enough tomatoes into them)
• 30 (5 each) baby plum tomatoes
• 3 tsps thyme honey
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tbsp rosato vermouth
• salt and Indonesian long pepper
• 25g basil, chopped, or thyme if it is winter
• ciabatta (average one and a half slices per person), or the half-baked rolls you can finish baking in your own oven.
1. preheat oven to 210ºC (use top right aga oven)
2. cut the peppers in half and take out the seeds, the stalk and the pith
3. cut the tomatoes in half
4. fill the peppers with the tomatoes
5. make the dressing and shake really well to emulsify
6. divide dressing between peppers, and put in the oven for about 25 minutes – allow them to become slightly charred (the rest will caramelise)
7. garnish with the basil and serve with warm, sliced ciabatta