Sant’Erasmo, a small island in Italy’s Venetian lagoon, is known by the locals as the “vegetable garden of Venice.” Thanks to the unique characteristics of its sand-and-clay soil, the prized produce cultivated there is particularly toothsome. From Sant’Erasmo come some of the most extraordinary intensely flavored sweet peppers that we have ever tasted. There is only a small window of opportunity in which they are available, and we were lucky enough to find them one year when we were conducting a cooking course in Verona. We used them for our risotto class, where the intensely flavorful peppers enhanced the creamy rice dish. You don’t need to take a flight to Venice, however, to enjoy this pasta sauce, spiked with red and yellow bell peppers and a luscious helping of butter. Whether you grow your own peppers or get them from your local farmers’ market, this dish will be a delicious remembrance of summer. It is one of our daughter Gabriella’s favorites, and we often make a whole meal of it followed by a salad.
Our students have asked if peeling the peppers really makes a difference. The answer is yes: the skin of even a sweet red pepper is bitter, not to mention tough. Without their skin, the peppers will be sweeter and more richly flavored. Here’s an easy way to peel peppers if you haven’t done it before.
Penne with Peppers, Fresh Tomato and Basil
From Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta by Giuliano Hazan
1/2 medium yellow onion
3 tablespoons butter
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 1/2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes
1 pound penne (also good with fusilli or a wide egg noodle such as pappardelle or tagliatelle)
8-10 fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
- Peel and finely chop the onion. Put it with the butter in a 12” skillet and place over medium heat. Sauté until the onion turns to a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.
- While the onion is sautéing, peel the peppers, core, and seed them. Cut away any white pith inside the peppers and cut into 1” squares. When the onion is ready, add the peppers and season lightly with salt. Raise the heat to medium high and sauté until they are mostly tender and begin to brown lightly, about 10 minutes.
- While the peppers are cooking, peel the tomatoes and coarsely chop them. When the peppers are ready, add the tomatoes and season lightly with salt. Cook until the tomatoes have reduced and the liquid they release has evaporated, about 10 more minutes.
- After the tomatoes have cooked for about 5 minutes, coarsely chop the basil and add it to the pan. Add about 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling pasta water, put in the penne, and stir well. Cook until al dente.
- When the pasta is done, drain it well, toss it with the sauce and the freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and serve at once.