2013 has been, meteorologically speaking, something of a strange year pretty much all over. I can’t recall ever seeing so much rain here in (or rather, near) Rome in the 24 years I’ve been here, rain which only stopped about half-way through June. We didn’t have a cold winter this year, it was just the interminable rain. Now, being Irish I can cope with rain. Love the stuff even. But of course my Italian family, friends, neighbours and in general the great Italian unwashed (or should I say slavati) spent the period from about October 2012 to June 2013 complaining non-stop about the weather. Indeed so great was their preoccupation with the weather that I had visions of there being some sort of mass conferral of British nationality on the inhabitants of The Boot.
But summer did eventually arrive and of course, as you can by now imagine, it arrived with a vengeance, we had a week or two at about 30° just to get acclimatized and then – zac! – 40° in the shade for the next 2 months. And of course everyone starts whinging about the heat and the mozzies and the humidity… Now, I’m no fan of excessive heat: my pathetic Irish skin can’t take massive doses of sun (and here I envy my son Caoimhan whose half-Calabrian side produced a skin which protects him magnificently from all sorts of rays). But feck it, humankind became what it is today thanks to its adaptability, so if you can’t stand a bit of sweltering weather for a few weeks once a year, it’s a sorry show. Naturally, you need to change your shirt 3 times a day in order to avoid all sorts of unpleasantness. And an extra shower or 2 a day will do you no harm. And you’ll have to up your water intake and lower your alcohol intake, too. But they’re sacrifices anyone should be able to make. Just think of the poor sods who live in northern climes. Like you, dear reader.
However, these sorts of temperatures do require some sort of adjustment in your diet. Of course, certain fruits and vegetables become available in summer, making certain dishes possible, but it’s also a matter of what you should be putting into your body. You need to reduce fats but keep carbs and above all increase vitamins and minerals, so fruit and vegetables play a huge role in the summer diet.
You may at this stage be thinking that this introduction is leading up to some terribly healthy summer dish. It is not. It is leading up to an unbelievably scrumptious, lip-licking (even plate-licking if that’s your thing), whizzer featuring the king of summer vegetables, the bell pepper, and the queen of unhealthiness – cream! It is my Creamy Pepper Pennette. As easy as falling out of a tree (something I am a past master of) but as delicious as a delicious thing.
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 1 clove garlic
- white wine or chicken/vegetable stock
- 200 g pennette (or penne if unavailable)
- 300 ml double cream
- Freshly-ground black pepper
The first thing you need to do is prepare your peppers for surgery. Give them a good wash, not forgeting behind the ears. Then take a pepper, slice it vertically through the middle. Take each half and cut around the green bit at the top to remove the lumpy bit with the seeds attached. Carefully whittle out any other white bits from inside the half pepper, leaving only red matter. Cut these half peppers horizontally, producing more or less squarish chunks on pepper.
No go to work on each chunk, slicing first vertically into 1 cm strips, then crosswise into 1 cm strips but thereby producing little cubes. Place the product of your labours onto a handy plate and continue with the next chunk of pepper until it’s all done. Stand back and admire your work. Applaud yourself. Call the family in and have them applaud you. The neighbours too, dammit.
Next, skin your clove of garlic, cut it into 2 or 3 pieces and bung it into your good old J-Lo Pan, the one (all together now) with the heavy bottom. Drown your garlic with a good splatter of extra virgin olive oil (about 4 tbsp). Turn on the heat (medium-low) and let the garlic sweat for about 3-5 minutes. Standing in front of the cooker, you should be beginning to sweat too, so now’s a good time to get some of that nice Sauvignon Blanc you keep in the fridge.
Once the garlic has repented its sins (beware lest it turn brown!!), ceremoniously add the diced peppers to the pan and stir it up, little baby. Turn up the heat a bit maybe and stir every now and then just to remind them who’s boss. Once they frittering away nicely, cover and reduce the heat to the minimum. They’re good now for about 10 minutes.
At this stage we need to add some vegetable stock. Obviously the real McCoy is best, but failing that you can use powdered stock in a little water or even just some dry white wine. Whatever it is, chuck in enough to make the peppers seem like they’re under threat of being flooded out of their house and home, but not actually swimming. Err on the side of dryness. Otherwise you’ll have to cook them for longer to vapourize all that liquid. And overcooked peppers have a habit of dissolving into mush. So, just a healthy dash of liquid. Bring it back up to bubbling point, reduce heat, partially cover and off you go for a cigarette.
Now put your past pot on to boil with ample water. When it boils, chuck in a good handful of sea salt followed by your pennette and cook as per usual (see https://mervensrecipes.wordpress.com/2012/11/22/pasta-and-how-to-treat-it/).
Once you’ve plunged your pasta into the boiling water, return your attentions to the peppers. Raising the heat a little, add the cream and stir it in. Keep it going, stirring frequently, until you’ve produced a creamy mixture, neither too watery nor too dry (in this case you can add a little warm milk to compensate).
By the time the creamy pepper sauce is redy, your past should be too so drain it and then fire it into the peppers, making sure you coat it well all over. It will thank you for this. And, boys and girls, that’s it! Serve with a healthy sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc to cries of “Long live summer!”.