There’s something unusual about Italian supermarkets that I came to notice. You know the aisle that leads you to the cashier which is often filled with sweets, chocolates and gum to tempt you into putting something into your trolley at the last-minute while you wait in boredom to pay? Well I’ve noticed that in many shops here that aisle is filled with pickles, all sorts of wonderful preserves and pickles.
Often I’ve watched people waiting in line, picking up a bottle, pondering over the decision to buy it and then adding it to their basket with notably less guilt than I used to have in South Africa during my spur of the moment purchases of chocolate. I suppose Italians have a weakness for preserves, hence the not so discreet marketing strategy. I don’t blame them though, Italian pickles are too delicious to pass by. Roasted artichoke hearts, mushrooms, zucchini, small Italian onions, sun-dried tomatoes, marinating in the the best oil and vinegars are just the beginning.
While these are all very good to eat and enjoy the truth for me is that the quantity per bottle are too stingy. A 100g bottle of grilled zucchini will last no more than 10 minutes in our home. We simply want more! That is why I’ve opted to start making preserves by myself, like this very simple and satisfying Bell Pepper Preserve. This is one of our favourites especially on days when we arrive home late from a day out and a effortless supper of Spaghetti drizzled with pickle oils, combined with the sweet tanginess of mixed peppers makes for a snappy but gorgeous meal.
The convenience of always having jars of pre cooked vegetables in the refrigerator is such a pleasure that once you start making your very own preserves with all the vegetables that you love, you’ll wonder how you ever did without them. I started with bell peppers because they are a common vegetable in most countries yet the bottled variation is a huge favourite in many supermarkets and farmers markets, with a cringe-worthy price tag attached. It is a versatile preserve that can be can be tossed into a salad, topped on bruschetta, mixed into boiled pasta, thrown over pizzas, pushed into bread dough before baking, not to mention added to an antipasto platter with cheeses and olives and anything else you might care for. Purèed, roasted bell pepper preserve makes a sultry sauce for grilled fish or chicken. Add Pine nuts before blending and voila a velvety pesto to be devoured as a dip for crusty breads, crackers or chips.
Never be intimidated by making preserves, it’s a lot less tedious than it looks. Truth be told it’s fascinating to make when you see the vegetables taking on a new life in the preserved form. I am sure your pantry has a stash of empty jam jars that need to be filled so let this be an incentive to start. Sterilizing jars are easy, if you have a dishwasher a quick wash and dry will do the trick. If not, bring jars to boil in a pot of water for half an hour and let steam dry completely. The most endearing aspect of home-made preserves is the actual preservatives. No harsh preservatives are used, instead it’s all natural in the form of good oils, salt, and vinegar. These are prefect to lock out the oxygen that spoils food and causes bacteria to attack. I do know that in places out of Italy olive oil can cost a small fortune so I’ve developed the perfect mix of regular olive oil and sunflower oil (both neutral oils that will not affect the natural flavour of the veg) to make preserving at home more affordable.
As they used to say in the good old days, “Happy Canning!”
- 5 large bell peppers
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp freshly crushed black pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 garlic cloves skins on
- 40ml balsamic vinegar
- 60ml olive oil
- 40ml sunflower oil
- Wash and slice peppers by cutting off the cheeks on all sides leaving only the core of seeds.
- Place all the pepper cheeks and garlic in a large oven-proof dish, rub with a splash of oil and salt and roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 160°C gas fan / 180°C electric fan / 200°C conventional.
- Turn on the grill/broiler of your oven and place the dish onto the highest rack to grill for a further 10 minutes.
- Remove and leave to cool.
- Slice roasted peppers into cubes, squeeze out garlic from skins and fill into a sterilised jar.
- Cover with oils, pepper, vinegar and herbs and press down.
- Seal tightly and refrigerate.
Maestros Need to Know *When choosing bell peppers always look for the firmest ones as these will keep for longer. *Bell peppers with wrinkled or creasy skin is an indication that they are not of the freshest quality so avoid buying them. Bell peppers that are soft to the touch are a good sign that they are on their way out. *Moisture can increase how quickly a bell pepper will rot so ensure that you keep them dry even when they are in the refrigerator. *If a bell pepper is firm, it should keep well in the fridge for up to 7 days. *If you don't want the skins on the peppers feel free to remove them before pickling, I prefer to leave them on for free flavour.