9 red peppers, cleaned, and cut into strips
10 ripe tomatoes, skinned, diced and seeds removed
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, whole [traditional method] or finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced Italian sausage, dried or fresh
2 eggs (either beaten, or poached in the stew)
"Cace e ova" -- cheese rolls [See recipe]
*Spellings for this dish vary depending on how Molisani townspeople pronounced this dish. Modern-day Italian cookbooks generally refer to this classic dish as "peperonata." However, "peperonata" is prepared solely with peppers, onions and tomatoes and without optional ingredients such as eggs. Well, this is the case in most central and Southern regions of Italy; in Northern Italy it appears that "peperonata" does not necessarily include tomatoes or onions.
1. In a stewing pot, heat oil and fry garlic until golden.
2. Add chopped onion and fry till golden.
3. If using "fresh" sausage, remove sausage meat from casing, and stir fry for a few minutes.
4. Add sliced peppers and season with salt.
5. Place lid on pan, and simmer peppers for 10 minutes.
6. Add diced tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes on medium heat, without the lid on.
7a. Version I. If using dried Italian sausage, slice it, and add it to the stew. Cook the stew for another 6 minutes.
7b. Version II. If using eggs, add beaten eggs and stir until the eggs are well mixed. Cook for about 6 minutes.
7c. Version III. If using eggs whole, break the eggs into the pan and poach them in the vegetable stew. Cook for another 6 minutes or so.
7d. Version IV, Add prepared "cacio e uova" to the stew and cook for another 10 minutes or so.
8. Serve warm with Italian country bread.
It seems everyone who was born in Southern Italy and immigrated to Montreal has their own unique recipe for peperonata or "ciabbotta" as it was known in Casacalenda, Molise. Everyone you speak to will swear that their recipe is the "right" recipe to follow if you want to do it in the "traditional" manner. Some cooks insist the dish is a vegetarian one and should not include any meat, while others argue that sausage is an essential ingredient. Obviously, the type of sausage used will depend on what region (or town!) the individual comes from (P.S. Personally, I prefer pepperoni as it packs a lot of flavor, but this I must admit was not was used in Casacalenda prior to World War II. Back then the "traditional" Molisan Italian sausage was used, and that contained very little in way of seasoning -- salt, pepper and possibly a touch of orange zest). Some cooks will insist that dried sausage should be used, others insist it should be fresh. Some Italians believe that this dish has to be made with red peppers (I'm in that group) while others say that green peppers are just as good (I disagree). While there may be hundreds of variations on this very famous dish, nonetheless it is reasonable to assume that prior to World War II cooks in Italy would have only used ingredients that were "in season." Also, prior to World War II, eggs and meat were expensive, so obviously few cooks added them to this dish. Still, even in a small town like Casacalenda there were well-to-do artisans and professionals, as well as large landowners who could afford to include eggs or sausage in their vegetable stews, and so they did! Nowadays, the majority of Southern Italians who immigrated to Canada in the 1950s, add meat and/or eggs to this dish, making it more substantial, as well as making it more similar to the dish that was presented in upper middle class homes in the old country. Some Italian Canadians use dry sausage in this dish while others use fresh sausage. Obviously, if one is using fresh sausage one needs to cook it awhile longer. In any case, with or without sausage, or with or without eggs, this dish has a very pleasant country flavor. I dare to say I love it. Photo: Mary Melfi.