Jun 29, 2009

Peperoni ripieni - stuffed bell peppers recipe

I opened the windows to air out the apartment early this morning. It must have been seven. The crisp spring air wafted in and brought with it a curiously untimely smell of... roasted bell peppers. Who the heck roasts bell peppers at 7 am? - I wondered, as I peered out past the geraniums on the window sill.

But then I remembered, today is a holiday. On this day the city of Rome celebrates two very important fellows, St. Peter and St. Paul. Hence the bell peppers.
The Festa di San Pietro e Paolo, or properly the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, is a holiday commemorating the martyrdom in Rome of the apostles Saint Peter and Paul of Tarsus, observed on June 29th. The celebration is of ancient origin, and in Rome it is a closely observed holiday. All business shuts down and people have the day off work. Picnic lunches are packed and taken to nearby beaches. Hence the bell peppers.

Saint Peter is also known as Ben-Yonah/Bar-Yonah, Simon Peter, Cephas and Kepha (Kepha and Cephas כיפא are all words that mean 'rock') - his original name is Shimon or Simeon. In Greek Πέτρος, Pétros also means rock. Pietro (in Italian the word pietra means rock too) was one of the Twelve Apostles, chosen by Jesus from his first disciples. Pietro was a Galilean peasant who ran a fishing business. He was assigned a leadership role by Jesus (Matthew 16:18), and is always in the lists of the Twelve Apostles and is also frequently mentioned in the Gospels as forming with James the Elder and John a special group within the Twelve Apostles, present at incidents at which the others were not, such as at the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Saint Paul, also called Paul of Tarsus (whose name in ancient Greek was: Σαούλ (Saul), Σαῦλος (Saulos), and Παῦλος (Paulos) was a Pharisee who called himself the "Apostle to the Gentiles." According to the Acts of the Apostles, his conversion took place on the road to Damascus as he was en route to persecuting more Christians after having slaughtered many in Jerusalem. Paolo's influence on Christian thinking arguably has been more significant than any other New Testament author. Paul's letters are largely written to churches which he had founded or visited; he was a great traveler, visiting Cyprus, Asia Minor (modern Turkey), mainland Greece, Crete and Rome bringing the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth with him. His letters are full of expositions of what Christians should believe and how they should live. He does not tell his correspondents (or the modern reader) much about the life of Jesus; his most explicit references are to the Last Supper, the crucifixion and resurrection.

Above, Caravaggio's dynamic depictions of St. Peter's crucifixion and St. Paul's conversion

Roman Martyrology (a rather and extensive but not exhaustive list of the saints recognized by the Church) assigns June 29th as the feasts day of both Peter and Paul. St. Augustine of Hippo says in his Sermon 295: "One day is assigned for the celebration of the martyrdom of the two apostles. But those two were one. Although their martyrdom occurred on different days, they were one."

That smell of bell peppers drifting in my kitchen as I brewed breakfast espresso, brought to mind a summer recipe my mom used to make when packing a basket with goodies before hitting the beach at Ostia or Fregene every June 29th. Mamma's peperoni ripieni is a complete meal in itself, the perfect Mediterranean meal combining pasta and a seasonal veggie, all in one baked delicacy. 

That premature lunch aroma made me want to make some today, to bring to my friend Barbara's pool, where our kids will be splashing around in her garden, water wing-clad, squealing with prune fingers and and eyelashes clustered.

My mother's recipe for these refreshing Neapolitan stuffed bell peppers yields 6 servings. Why don't you celebrate San Pietro e Paolo with us today and make some yourself?

12 large bell peppers
500 g (1.1 lb) short pasta (tubular or spiraling would be best)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
5 plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and chopped
2 tbsp salted or pickled capers, well rinsed
3 tbsp pitted organic black olives, coarsely chopped
3 salted anchovies (visit a delicatessen for these, or use canned anchovy fillets packed in oil if you cannot find them). In any case, wash, bone, and mince them.
A small bunch of fresh basil, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F).

Prepare the peppers by leaving them whole and cutting around the stems, shaking out the seeds, washing them, and patting them dry. Next, broil them over the stove top flame to blister the skins, making sure you don't burn your hands. My mom's failsafe system is to then cool them off for a few minutes in a brown paper bag, the skins will peel right off: gently rub the bell peppers with a towel, taking care not to pierce the flesh. If you wish to leave the skins on you can, but in this case you'll have to increase the final baking time to an hour.

Sauté two cloves of garlic in their "shirts," that is smashed and with skins left on, in 1/4 cup olive oil, removing and discarding them when they have browned. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the olives and capers, lower the heat, and cook for five more minutes. After removing the pot from the stove, stir in the anchovies, parsley and pepper.

Cook the pasta in lightly salted water until it's half cooked, drain it, and season it with the tomato sauce.

Divide the filling mixture into 12 parts and stuff the peppers. Put them in a well-oiled ovenproof dish, drizzle with olive oil to taste (I go with a lavish hand) and roast for 30-45 minutes (or an hour if you choose not to peel the peppers).

They're wonderful served cold, and even better the next day. They'll go very well with a chilled fruity white wine, for example Vernaccia, Fiano or Vermentino, and a crisp iceberg salad.

Buon San Pietro e Paolo!


  1. These look so tasty. And it's great that you can serve them cold -- do-ahead recipe. :o) I've never stuffed mine with pasta, just couscous or rice. The pasta sounds lovely.

  2. A very good post. You have the ability of conjugating history and palate, culture and cuisine. And yes, peperoni imbottiti are much better the next day, although now I find peperoni a bit heavy in the evening.
    Ciao bimba Lola

  3. Thanks for reminding me...now I can wish auguri to my friend Pierpaolo!

  4. Mmmmmm. I love aroma of bell peppers roasting. Even more, I love eating them afterward!

    Saint Peter is one of my favorite biblical characters. He was full of bravado, always very sure of himself, until he (almost always) failed in some way, at least during the time when Jesus was on Earth. He meant well, always, but often overstepped his abilities. In the end, though, after Jesus' crucifixion, Peter became (as his name was translated) a rock, a stalwart of the church, a man who was resolute and strong.

    I think many of us - me, most certainly - have that well-meaning but just bragging bit to us. And I like to think that, like Peter, I'll get it right in the end :-)

  5. What a perfect recipe! I hope you have a lovely holiday today (although, you've probably already had it by this time).

    I also finally acknowledged your lovely splash award today, and passed it on to some lovely bloggers.

  6. very nice. interesting the history behind the celebration of their martyrdom. Peter and Paul, both favorites of mine as well. Peter's quick headedness gives me hope.

    on the day i was born, my mother gorged herself on stuffed peppers. so in a way they helped me get here. smiles. the dish sounds amazing. hope you have a great day!

  7. Golly Lola that was brilliant!
    No wonder you haven't been drinking your cold cup of coffee at my place! Sheer brilliance with the historic background and the appropriate 'pepper nibbles' as well.

    I loved your historic account of St Peter and St Paul and those 'sons of thunder' brothers as they are called, James and John. Strange James was the first to be martyred, beheaded I think, and John ended up an old man, receiving the book of Revelation (or the Apocalysed as the RCs say).
    We celebrated the event on Sunday at mass. Yes I am a good boy sometimes but I like a little bit of fun as well, especially with Italian ladies! - Bye for now ~ Eddie x

  8. Sniff. Wow, now I can smell those roasting peppers. You words carry the aromas across the many miles.

    Alas, my middle aged digestion does not fare well with bell peppers. I can do spicy hot ones, but something about the bell is not friendly.

    I could make the dish and just eat the stuffing!

  9. They must be DELICIOUS!!!! I, too, love the smell of roasted peppers... My mom made them with rice.
    Hope you had a good holiday.
    Ti mando un abbraccio

  10. That is a healthy stuffed pepper your mother made. YUMM, great choice for travel or just the day out! Enjoy :)

  11. Great recipe! Will make this one minus the anchovies. :)

    Hope you had fun poolside.

  12. Yummy! And a church-history lesson to go with it too. Enjoy the holidays.

  13. Lola - I see you are a centurion like Rosaria. Congratulations ~ Eddie

  14. Nothing like the smell of roasted peppers. I love these Italian dishes that can also be eaten at room temp. This one sounds special enough for your holiday. Enjoy your day, Lola!

  15. This made me want to go dig out my old St.Christopher medals, the love token in my high school days...

    and yes, yummy! my Mom used to make these with rice (which is the only part I would eat for years)now, i love the whole thing! yours looks scrumptious.

  16. Heavenly decadence. Holy food. That is what it is every time I come here but I have an admission to make. I read your first couple lines and I thought, Lola is going to tell us of her day, tell us the story that is she. And I love your food. I know this is so much a part of who you are but dear Lola, tell me a story. Tell me the story that is you. I am hungry. I will eat.


  17. Ciao Lola! Yum! I'm on my way to market in a few minutes to buy some peppers now. It's like pasta alla puttanesca stuffed in peppers, eh? Sounds great! Thanks for sharing!

  18. Lola, this is such an amazing post.. thanks for all the history, and recipes, and gorgeous photos as ever! (How do you ever get the time?) x

  19. The smell and aroma of roasting bell peppers are heavenly.. it gives a certain distinct joy like a special moment.

    Gorgeous pics as usual, lola!


  20. I am a terrible cook, but I am going to try this because I LOVE PEPPERS and we finally bought a new oven!

  21. I'm thinking I need to buy some peppers. Soon.

    Lovely post.

  22. Lola my dearest historian person - thank you. I will walk away from your blog feeling most learned. I have seen Caravaggio's paintings, but I had absolutely no knowledge of the history behind St. Peter and St. Paul - despite having gone to a school which was so high-church Anglican as to be almost Catholic.

    Those stuffed peppers look divinely mouth-watering -- and I very much like that they can also be served cold.

  23. Terrific post as always Lola. Stories, language and recipes to gladden the heart.

  24. Is it me or does Rome seem to have a holiday about every three weeks? As if Rome needed more of a reason for people to visit and stay forever.

  25. I'm going to make this tomorrow. Love the healthy aspect of it. Fresh and easy. Perfect.

  26. This appeals to me for the same reasons the stuffed tomatoes did. Okay, I'm signing up.

    And Lola, I tried your panzanella this week, only I used brown rice since I'm avoiding wheat. It was delicious. I probably can't call that PANzanella, though, can I? Isn't PAN bread?

    Thanks for another winner (I can already tell). s

  27. Lola I say it 1000 times but these stories and your colourful pictures are going to make your cookbook the bestseller it deserves to be.

    Dear Lola never worry about getting back to me or commenting, I know you are busy living the life, you have a small child and that takes your time and that is definitely what you should be doing. Also, a holiday is coming up.

    Love Renee xoxo

  28. I just discovered your blog and I am making these wonderful peppers this weekend! I have to tell you that out of all your links, I clicked on "forchettine" first and thought it was funny that I would choose your other blog out of your list! Since I am studying Italian I was happy to be able to read it and understand quite a bit. I'll be back.

  29. You always make me hungry :-)

    You are going to be a bigger star than you already are when you release that cookbook :-)

    best wishes

  30. So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only ... you can see in Ancient Greece Oikos and Polis and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,