Grilled Sweet Banana Chillies
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
— Mother Goose.
Grilled or roasted sweet banana chilli peppers (capsicums) are prepared in various forms throughout Europe, including Hungary, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece and Italy. They are served as a salad, an antipasto or appetiser with a cold platter and crusty bread, or as an accompaniment to a cooked meat dish.
In The Cook's Companion, Stephanie Alexander notes that Australia's love affair with chillies and sweet peppers started with post-war European immigration. Indeed, as I mentioned in my snippet on Hungarian Peperonata, my own mother served sweet bell peppers or capsicums in numerous ways, both cooked and raw, hence I grew up loving them. However, it wasn't until the late 1970s that I delved into the world of grilled sweet banana chillies.
I was taught how to prepare banana chillies in this way by my then mother-in-law (MIL) and it was important that I got it right... this was, after all, her beloved son's favourite dish. Using MIL's recipe as a guide, I mastered the cooking technique and timing, in order to bring out a smoky depth of flavour. I tweaked the quantities of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, garlic and sea salt; and added just a splash of balsamic to the dressing. Yes! Even the MIL agreed that I had nailed the dish, and so I adopted it as a favourite on my repertoire. On request, I pledged to make it for MIL and the extended family at Christmas and on birthdays (along with my pavlova and tiramisu!). This became a tradition that was to last for more than 25 years.
Time flies, and things change. C'est la vie and all that!
Shopping at the Capital Region Farmer's Market a couple of weekends ago, I bought a jarful of roasted red capsicums from Magdalena de Cerbo, one of my favourite stallholders. My (ex) sister-in-law, Anita, was coming for lunch later that day and I knew she would really enjoy this homemade treat with some artisan sourdough bread. Actually, it was the lovely Anita who reminded me of how much she (and the rest of the family) had loved my version of grilled sweet banana chillies and how sorely she missed them (and moi) at her Christmas table. With this in mind, I made a plateful for myself earlier this week and, I must say, they were, as always, delicious.
So, dear reader, I herewith share with you a peck of pickled peppers a la Lizzy... and a little blast from my past. Now, please, tell me about yours.
GRILLED BANANA CHILLIES
12 whole sweet banana capsicums/chillies/peppers*
1/3 -1/2 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons EVOO
a few drops balsamic vinegar, to taste
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
In a small jug, blend the oil and vinegars to individual taste - try to aim for a sweet, rich and smoky dressing. Add the garlic. Set aside to allow the flavours to develop.
Wash and dry the peppers. If using large bell capsicums, slice them into halves or quarters lengthways and remove the pith and seeds. Place the peppers on a grill tray skin-side upwards and roast, turning until the skins blister and blacken. Pop them immediately into a plastic bag for 1-2 minutes allowing them to steam and making them easier to peel, then carefully peel off and discard the blistered skins.
Place the still warm peppers into the bowl with the prepared dressing, salting each layer. Baste with the dressing. This is important, as the warmth of the just-roasted peppers somehow melds with the salt and the dressing. Serve immediately (or slightly chilled). Serves 6.
As a variation, add just a little anchovy and lemon juice to the dressing and garnish with some tiny basil leaves.
*If you prefer the flavour of red and green bell peppers or capsicums, use 8-10 of those and roast them whole, or cut them into quarters and remove the seeds and core. The plump flesh of bell peppers is particularly delicious when roasted or grilled.
Footnote: This snippet is in memory of Alma, my dear (ex) MIL, who sadly passed away in 1997. Her legacy lives on through the generations, via her recipes.
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