Peperonata, or sweet pepper stew, is one of those classic Italian dishes. It is a great side dish, and is often served with fish or meat. The addition of chickpeas and green lentils makes this a filling main meal.
I love Peperonata because it is such a vibrant, colours-of-the-rainbow dish. And like pesto, it is one of those dishes that, over time, you can tweak and experiment with until you have your own tried-and-true signature Peperonata recipe!
The core ingredients in Peperonata are capsicum (bell pepper), red onion, garlic and olive oil, but every family has their own variation. Some add olives, tomatoes, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, mild chillies and fresh herbs such as basil and flat leaf parsley. Some brighten it with lemon juice or zest or add depth of flavour with sweet paprika. When I make peperonata with legumes like chickpeas and lentils I make sure I add in some big bright flavours. I add in sweet (or smoky) paprika for depth of flavour, as well as red wine vinegar, lemon juice and sumac to brighten it.
Sumac is one of those flavours that is hard to describe. Sort of tart and tangy. Utterly delicious. If you are new to sumac and start experimenting with it, you may find yourself adding it to EVERYTHING. Or maybe that's just me...
Different families seem to hold pretty strong views about how the capsicums/peppers should be chopped. Some insist that the onion and capsicum should be cut into long thin slices (this was how I was taught), while others insist on a chunky dice. Try a few different ways, but remember that all ingredients should be chopped to roughly the same size.
Cooking time is also an area of difference. Some cook their peppers low and slow until they are super soft and almost caramelised. Others choose a quick cook over high heat, almost like a stir fry.
In my view, there is no wrong way to make peperonata. Try a few different tweaks until you find a recipe that makes your tastebuds sing.
2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 can)
2 cups cooked green lentils (or 1 can)
1 red capsicum (bell pepper), cored and sliced
1 green capsicum (bell pepper), cored and sliced
1 yellow capsicum (bell pepper), cored and sliced
2 red/purple onions, peeled and sliced
1 punnet (200g) cherry or plum tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 generous handful olives
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1-2 Tablespoons sweet (or smoky) paprika
Juice of 2 lemons
OPTIONAL (but highly recommended): 2-3 teaspoons Sumac, 1 generous handful torn basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Place all ingredients (except lemon juice and basil) into a large pan and cook over medium heat until cooked through, stirring occasionally. It is up to you to decide how long you want to cook your peperonata. I recommend experimenting with different cooking times until you decide how you like it.
Add in cooked chickpeas and lentils, cover and simmer over low-medium heat until the lentils and chickpeas are cooked through.
Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste, and add in extra red wine vinegar, paprika and sumac, if desired.
To serve: Spoon into bowls and pour over lemon juice (juice of 1/2 lemon per bowl), garnish with an extra dusting of sumac and fresh herbs. Don't forget the lemon juice! It really makes this dish sing!