What I love the most about Italian cuisine is its simplicity. There are so many fantastic dishes that rely on just a handful of ingredients... Which means you really have no excuse for not cooking good food even for the quickest and loneliest of home lunches. Of course, when you're working within the parameters of simplicity, your ingredients need to be top-notch. But even if you can't count on the best, slow-dried pasta or the freshest Neapolitan mozzarella or the sweetest ripe cherry tomatoes from Campania, just focusing on moderately good ingredients can yield something truly delicious. This is a long way of saying, have fun with your Italian cooking but don't use egg noodles and broken-up Velveeta slices for pasta cacio e pepe.
One dish I like to make in the warmer months is pasta with roasted bell peppers. In the past, I would roast my peppers directly on the gas stove, charring the skin until it would to peel off easily. You might be acquainted with this technique: The "gas burner" method is the quickest and easiest way to have perfectly cooked bell pepper fillets for your pasta (or bruschetta, or sandwich, or vegan side dish, or whatever).
A year ago, however, Mr Bee and I were experimenting with roasting whole eggplants on the stove by wrapping them in aluminum foil, and we were delighted to discover that the eggplant would come out with a great smokey flavor (perfect for baba ganoush). So, we thought, why not try with bell peppers? Thank you, insatiable human curiosity! The peppers tasted amazing, as if we had just pulled them out of the smoker. And since it was time for lunch, we chopped the peppers up, sautéed them with a little chopped onion, and served them on pasta. Perfect, mega-flavorful, super-easy, four-ingredient (vegan!) dish.
This pasta is so easy and rewarding in itself, it really doesn't need any extras. However, if you are one of those people who likes bolder flavors, you can add cheese (Parmigiano, Pecorino, ricotta salata, or fresh mozzarella), salt-cured olives, capers, or fresh basil. But, really, you don't need anything fancy. This can be the simplest of lunches, with just a touch of private celebration.
|OK, so we added some cheese to this one.|
PASTA WITH SMOKED BELL PEPPERS
2–3 bell peppers (any color except green)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 smallish onion, chopped
10 oz good-quality pasta (any format will do with the exception of egg pasta and thin, long pasta)
- Wash the peppers and wrap them tightly in two sheets of aluminum.
- Place each pepper on a gas burner, and roast for 15–20 minutes, turning every few minutes or so with metal tongs to make sure the peppers are cooked all over. Bell peppers are ready when they feel soft when prodded.
- Once the peppers are ready, let them cool down and then peel off the charred skin.
- Cut the peppers into fillets and then chop them in smaller pieces.
- Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large frying pan.
- Add the chopped onion and cook until soft and browned.
- Add the bell peppers and a pinch of salt and cook for another 5–8 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Cook the pasta al dente in the appropriate pot.
- Drain the pasta, add it to the pan, and cook for another minute or so.
- Serve immediately, and drizzle with more extra-virgin olive oil if preferred (I prefer).