Italian pasta peperonata combines pasta with a rich sauce featuring sweet bell peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes. This rustic Italian pasta recipe is made with a handful of pantry friendly ingredients, perfect for an easy weeknight dinner or lazy weekend meal. Although it is essentially a vibrant summer dish with a delicious symphony of sweet and sour flavors it can be enjoyed all year round.
What is peperonata sauce?
Traditionally served as a side dish or appetizer, Peperonata is a classic dish originating from Southern Italy. Nowadays though this dish has become widely popular across the entire country, where the basic recipe stays the same but with some regional differences in additional ingredients.
The word peperonata is derived from the word peperone, which in Italian means bell pepper, capsicum or sweet pepper, hence the name of the dish.
- Pasta: Use any pasta you like. I used fusilli for this pasta recipe, but it can be enjoyed with any type of pasta.
- Bell peppers: Use either 1 single color or a mix of colors depending on what you have at hand. A mix of colors will not only give you a vibrant and colorful dish but also a better symphony of flavors. Use only fresh bell peppers for optimal results.
- Onions: Stewing onions provide a fragrant flavor base in this peperonata recipe. Use yellow or white onion for a lovely sweet, bold taste. Use red onions if you’d like to add some extra vibrant color.
- Garlic: Use as many fresh garlic cloves as you like. The garlic will be stewed with the onions and peppers and will therefore release a beautiful soft and sweet flavor, which is perfect for this dish. Don’t use garlic powder as you will not obtain the same flavor profile.
- Tomatoes: The tomato complements the bell peppers, who are the key ingredient in this dish. Use any type of tomato, either fresh tomatoes or a can of peeled tomatoes as I have used in this recipe.
- Black olives: A great addition to this peperonata sauce. Use pitted black olives as they are easier to eat.
- Olive oil: The vegetables will first be sautéed in olive oil to intensify and release their best flavors. So use a good quality olive oil for best results.
- Vinegar: A dash of vinegar further enhances the flavors of this dish by giving it some slightly sweet and sour freshness. Use either white wine vinegar, balsamico, sherry or apple cider vinegar.
- Seasoning: Apart from salt and pepper, use a good pinch of oregano for a lovely Italian taste. Finish off the dish with fresh basil leaves.
- Parmesan cheese: Serve with finely grated parmesan cheese.
Peperonata or Italian stewed peppers and onions is the basis of this dish. Possible variations are:
- Herbs: You can experiment with various herbs, as long as you stick to the Mediterranean flavors in order to keep the pasta with peperonata somehow authentic. Use oregano, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme or sage as herbs, either fresh or dried.
- Spices: Add either chilli flakes, cayenne pepper or smoked Spanish paprika for a hint of heat. Or add some earthy notes with cumin or cinnamon.
- Eggplant and zucchini: Add eggplant and/or zucchini to get an Italian-style ratatouille or pisto dish.
- Protein: Add chicken or Italian sausage for a meaty dish.
How to make the best peperonata sauce
Note: All the exact quantities of the ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Read this post about how to make peperonata sauce for a more in-depth and detailed description of the recipe. In the meantime, here is more brief explanation on how to make ‘pasta con peperonata’:
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of water with a dash of salt to a boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Drain and set aside for later.
- Cut the vegetables: While the pasta is cooking, cut the bell peppers and onions into long thin strips. Mince the garlic or cut into thin slices.
- Sauté the vegetables: Heat olive oil in a large frying pan or skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions for 5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute until fragrant. Then add the bell peppers and keep sautéing for about 5 minutes until they start to soften.
- Stew the vegetables: Add the vinegar, tomatoes, black olives, salt, pepper and oregano. Stir to combine. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the peppers and onions are tender and soft. The bell peppers need to be cooked but still hold their shape, so not cooked too soft. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and oregano to taste.
- Serve: Either mix the pasta with the sauce and serve with a handful of fresh basil leaves. Or add the pasta in to a plate and put a good serving of peperonata sauce and basil leaves on top.
TIP: Did you know that the Italian way to eat pasta is to mix the pasta with the sauce and then serve? But don’t worry, it’s about personal choice so feel free to serve pasta and sauce separately. Read here if you are interested in knowing more facts about Italian food
Interesting tips & tricks
The quantity of pasta will depend on whether you eat this pasta dish as a starter, like most Italians do, or as a main dish. As a general thumb of rule, count on 2 ounces (or 55 grams) of dry pasta per person for a starter and 3.5 ounces (or 100 grams) of dry pasta per person when serving this dish as a main meal. This may sound a lot for some people, but rather too much than not enough. Also, this is a great dish to keep leftovers for later. And being Italian I can say, you can never have enough pasta.
Can I make this dish in advance?
Yes, you can make this pasta peperonata in advance. Prepare the peperonata sauce and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Pasta is always best when cooked fresh, so cook the pasta when needed and add the sauce before serving.
How to store the peperonata sauce?
Peperonata can either be kept in the fridge or freezer. So make a large quantity, leave to cool to room temperature and store in smaller portions in airtight containers for up to 3 months. To warm, leave to thaw overnight in the fridge and warm in the microwave oven or in a sauce pan on the stove on low heat. You can even freeze the pasta with the peperonata sauce. Add the pasta in a container or freezer bag and store for up to 3 months. Also thaw overnight in the fridge and warm in the microwave or in a saucepan on low heat. You might need to add a bit of water for the pasta not to stick to the bottom of the pan when reheating on the stove.
How to serve
Serve this pasta with stewed pepper sauce either as a first course or as a main meal. When serving as a main meal, serve with crusty bread, ciabatta or french loaf and a side salad. Salads that could work with this dish are: persimmon Caprese salad, burrata Caprese salad, shaved fennel salad, gorgonzola and pear salad with pecans, fresh fig and feta salad.
More bell pepper recipes to try
- Chicken stuffed peppers with feta
- Creamy yellow pepper soup
- Beef stuffed peppers
- Bell peppers with chicken and Italian green beans
- Lemon baked whiting with bell peppers
More pasta dishes to try
- Creamy butternut squash pasta with sage
- Creamy tuna pasta with leek
- Pasta with smoked trout and endives
- 14 ounces (or 400 grams) pasta any type of pasta you like
- 1½ pounds (or 700 grams) bell peppers any color
- 2 onions
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1¾ cup tomatoes (or 1x 14 ounce can) peeled and diced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- handful basil leaves
- ⅓ cup (or 60 grams) black olives pitted
- salt (both for the pasta water and the peperonata sauce)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the pasta
- Cook the pasta al dente in salty water according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside for later.
For the peperonata sauce
- Cut the bell peppers in half, remove the stem, seeds and white membranes. Cut into long strips of ¼ inch (or 6 mm).
- Peel the onions and cut lengthwise in half. Cut the onion into long thin half-moon slices. Peel and mince the garlic.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or large heavy bottom frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the onions for 5 minutes until transluscent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Then add the bell peppers and continue cooking for 5 minutes until they start to soften. Keep stirring frequently.
- Add the white wine vinegar, tomatoes, black olives, salt, pepper and oregano and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid.
- Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the peppers are tender but not too soft. They should still hold their shape. Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Serve the pasta with the peperonata sauce, fresh basil leaves and grated parmesan cheese.
- Bell peppers: Use a mix of all colors, or stay with one color according to personal choice or availability.
- Peeling the peppers: No need to peel them unless you have difficulty digesting the peels. Use a thin slicer to remove the skin.
- Resting time: Either serve immediately after cooking or leave to rest so the flavors can further develop.
- Serving: Either serve with the pasta already mixed in the sauce (like a real Italian) or with the pasta on a plate and the sauce on top of it.