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Home with the Lost Italian: Send your taste buds to Italy with Peperoni di Rosangela

Peperoni di Rosangela (Roasted Peppers with Capers and Anchovies)

“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.

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.

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.

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