My favorite hors d’oeuvre is also a brilliant material for improvising; oven-roasted pepper slices are so easy, delicious and versatile I call them Magic Peppers. I learned the basic approach in Italy: brushing pepper slices with olive oil and roasting them at a high heat, with whatever flavorings I feel like, from slivers of garlic—and—anchovy or thyme leaves to sweet, smoked chile powders. It is a revelation how something so utterly simple can become so delicious: at once tender, slightly caramelized and chewy.
They are a perfect hors d’oeuvre because each slice is just a bite or two. (To make them easy to pick up with the fingers, and visually charming. I leave a little piece of green stem attached to each slice). They also make a fine side dish for grilled or roasted seafood and meat. You can make them with regular-size bell peppers, or the miniatures ones that are increasingly available.
The reason I call them Magic Peppers is that I can do so many things with them. Spices and herbs offer simple ways to improvise. These could include chopped fresh thyme, rosemary and savory leaves, fennel, cumin or crushed coriander seeds. Ground chile powders, such as ancho powder or the fabulous smoked sweet paprikas from Spain can give a more complex pepper flavor. In Italy, I’ve had divine oven-roasted peppers that had been cooked with slivers of anchovy and garlic in the cavity.
But the real fun begins with all the things you can do with these oven-roasted peppers. Magic Peppers make a fabulous “bed” for a fried egg, for a simple supper Coarsely chopped, with olives, anchovies, roasted onions, herbs, pine nuts or walnuts, and some additional olive oil, they make a flavorful rustic mash with which to top bruschetta or pizza, or “sauce” – like an instant, hearty ragu – tossed pastas or baked constructions with layers of cheese. I like to pile this mixture into a shallow bowl, and warm it with thin slices of aged goat cheese as an appetizer. The chopped peppers could easily become a savory tart filling, bound with a drizzle of a creamy “quiche” custard of eggs and cream. You can also roll the filling into omelets or tortillas, with a dollop of sour cream. They make a delicious little sweet, caramelly hit of flavor in soups, potato salads or white beans.
Recipe: Magic Peppers (Oven-Roasted Peppers with Many Flavors and Uses)
Serves about 4
About 2 pounds red and/or yellow bell peppers (4 large) or 1 pound miniature peppers
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Flavorings, such as fresh thyme or rosemary; fennel, cumin or cracked coriander seeds, sweet-picante paprika or smoked paprika from Spain; slivers of anchovies-in-oil and fresh garlic….
Preheat the oven to 450’.
Cut the peppers. If you will be serving the pepper slices as an hors d’oeuvre or side dish here’s how to cut them into charming uniform slices with a little bit of green stem: halve each pepper lengthwise through the stem; if possible, keep the green stems in tact. Remove and discard the spongey white pith. For large pepper, cut each half into thirds again lengthwise, leaving the sliver of green stem intact.
If you will be chopping up large peppers for another use after they are cooked, use this quicker method; Stand a pepper stem-up on the work surface. With a sharp knife, working from core to stem, slice the flesh off in 4 or 5 large strips, leaving the stem and seed core intact. Cut out any out the white membrane clinging to the strips and proceed with the remaining peppers.
Oil the peppers. Place the peppers in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil; toss with a pastry brush to coat completely. Arrange pepper slices cut side-up-on a large baking sheet.
Flavor the peppers, as desired. Sprinkle peppers lightly with salt, pepper and any flavorings you wish.
Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until the peppers are tender and slightly browned on the edges. Serve hot or room temperature.