As we transition to Fall, vine grown tomatoes become scarce yet peppers are still abundant, Roasted Peppers with Smoked Mozzarella is the perfect substitute for those summer Caprese Salads.
That distinct aroma as you enter the house, instantly you know that peppers have been roasting. Those of you who grew up in an Italian American household know exactly what I am talking about, don’t you? The waft of charred pepper skin with slightly sweet undertones is a sign of something wonderful to come. Roasted peppers were a staple at our home and they still are. The effect that fire has on the flavor of a pepper is quite amazing, a primitive method of preparing food yet it continues to be one of the best.
A few well selected ingredients along with a bit of patience in peeling the charred peppers is all it takes to prepare this dish. The peppers should be red, firm and free of blemishes. Washed and dried they are ready to roast in any number of ways – depending upon how much of a mess you want to make in the kitchen.
To be perfectly honest I prefer to roast them on the stove-top with an open flame, turning them as they blacken. On a scale of 1 to 10 with respect to messy clean up, this method is a 12. The blacken bits of skin along with some of the liquid that oozes out of the peppers is more than I can deal with after a busy day. That being said, open flame roasting renders the best texture of the finished pepper as it isn’t actually steaming from within, leaving a firm fleshed pepper.
A preheated broiler along with a foil lined baking sheet are your best friends in roasting peppers, trust me. Arrange the top rack of your oven about 1/3 down, turn the dial to broil and be sure preheat for at least 10 minutes. I generally do not close the oven door, as I want the skins to blacken without turning the flesh to mush. Use a long pair of tongs to turn the peppers as they blacken and stay nearby.
Once the peppers are completely charred, place them in a large bowl covered with a plate or in a paper bag; either of which can be set in your sink. As the peppers cool (and this takes time) the charred skin loosens; it is then time to remove the blackened skin, seeds, and stem.
This is best done at the sink, again you must trust me, one pepper at a time. Pull out the stem and rub off the charred exterior from the pepper. Do not, I repeat, do not run the peppers under water! This common practice, although easy not only removes the skin and seeds, but takes some of the flavor along with it.
Un po ‘di pazienza, please – it really isn’t difficult. Once the peppers are clean, slice into strips, marinate, and combine with slices of smoked mozzarella.
An example of the Italian kitchen at it’s finest, Roasted Peppers & Smoked Mozzarella makes a wonderful lunch with a piece of crusty bread, an antipasto, or a side dish as part of a buffet dinner.
- 4 red bell peppers, firm and free from any obvious blemishes - washed and dried
- 8 ounces of smoked Mozzarella, sliced ¼ inch thick
- Basil leaves
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 plump garlic cloves, peeped and sliced
- Sea Salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Arrange an oven rack ⅓ down from the top and preheat the broiler for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Line a heavy duty baking sheet with aluminum foil, have a pair of long handled tongs set nearby
- Arrange the clean peppers on the baking sheet, place the baking sheet on the shelf in the oven. Keep the oven door open.
- Watch carefully as the peppers begin to blacken, once the top portion of each pepper is blackened, turn with the tongs and perhaps adjust on the baking sheet to be sure that the peppers are positioned under the hottest parts of the broiler. Continue adjusting the peppers until they are all completely charred. Remove the tray, using the tongs place the peppers in either a large bowl which you shall cover with a plate or in a paper bag folding the top down to enclose the peppers. Allow the bowl or bag to sit in the kitchen sink until the peppers have cooled. This will allow the charred skin to loosen from the actual pepper making removal of the charred skin a bit easier.
- Place about ⅓ of a cup of the evoo, salt, pepper, sliced garlic and a few torn basil leaves in a glass or ceramic bowl - set aside
- Taking one of the cooled peppers at a time, pull out the stem and seeds, rub off the charred skin. This takes a bit of time and patience, so do so carefully. Often a dry paper towel is helpful in rubbing off some of the remaining skin or seeds. Do not run under water as this will reduce the intensity of the roasted flavor. Repeat the process with the remaining peppers.
- Slice the prepared peppers lengthwise and about 1 to 1½ inches wide. Place the strips into the olive oil mixture, stir and allow to marinate for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.
- Select a serving platter and begin to arrange the marinated roasted peppers and sliced smoked mozzarella on the platter, using the marinating oil as well. Drizzle a bit more of the extra virgin olive oil over the platter, season with additional salt & pepper and garnish with a few basil sprigs. The dish benefits from sitting at room temperature for about 2 hours prior to serving.