Peperonata is a vibrant Italian dish made with colourful bell peppers, slowly simmered to perfection along with onions, tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Even though it is made with just a few simple ingredients, this rustic Italian pepper stew is a fragrant dish bursting with deliciously sweet and intense flavours. It is traditionally served as a healthy side dish, as a vegetarian pasta sauce or as an appetizer with grilled ciabatta or farmers loaf.
What is peperonata?
The word peperonata is derived from the Italian word peperone, which means bell pepper, sweet pepper or capsicum. In other words, peperonata is an Italian stew of which the basic ingredients are bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic. This dish finds its origins in the Southern part of Italy but is nowadays a very popular dish throughout the whole country.
You may find that the basic peperonata recipe is the same, however, various regions often have their own specific and local variations of the dish. Peperonata is mainly a summer favourite when the bell peppers are locally in season and at their freshest.
Which ingredients to use
- Bell peppers: This vibrant dish calls for a rainbow of colours, so use a mix of yellow, red, orange and green bell peppers. You can also choose just one colour or omit the green pepper as not everyone likes the slightly bitter taste. Use only fresh peppers with a firm and brightly coloured skin.
- Onions: Either yellow, white or red onions will do.
- Garlic: Use a couple of fresh garlic cloves for a beautiful, intense flavour, either thinly sliced or minced. Only use garlic powder as a substitute if you mysteriously run out of fresh garlic.
- Tomatoes: The bell pepper is the hero in this dish, so any variation of tomato can be added. Use either fresh tomatoes (peeled and cut in dices), tomato passata or peeled tomatoes from a can, which is what I used in this recipe.
- Olive oil: Use a good quality olive oil to sauté the onions, bell peppers and garlic. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, enough for the vegetables to intensify and release their best flavours while cooking on medium to low heat.
- Vinegar: Not all peperonata recipes call for vinegar, but adding a dash of white wine vinegar enhances the flavour of the dish. As a substitute you can use apple cider vinegar, sherry or balsamic vinegar.
- Seasoning: Add salt and pepper to taste. A good amount of dried oregano can also be added when cooking while a few leaves of fresh basil will finish off the dish before serving.
How to make peperonata sauce
This Italian pepper and onion stew comes together in just a few easy steps. The most important tip is long and slow cooking with fresh ingredients to obtain the best flavours.
- Prepare the vegetables: Wash the bell peppers, cut length-wise in half, remove the stem, seeds and the white membranes. With a sharp knife, cut the peppers into long thin slices of about 1/4 inch or 6 mm. Peel the onion, cut length-wise in half and cut thinly into half moons. Peel the garlic cloves and finely slice (optionally mince).
- Sauté the vegetables: Drizzle the olive oil in a large pan or skillet. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes until translucent while stirring regularly. Add the garlic and bell peppers and cook for another 5 minutes on medium heat. Stir often but gently. When the vegetables start to soften, pour in the white wine vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Continue to cook for 1 minute then add the tomatoes and stir to mix well.
- Cook the stew: Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. The peperonata sauce is ready when the peppers are tender and soft but still hold their shape. Season with extra salt and pepper to taste and fresh basil before serving.
Cooking tips for the best peperonata
- Slow cooking: This dish is all about long and slow, not quick and fast. Slow cooking will intensify the flavours of the fresh vegetables, resulting in a more tasteful dish. Slow cooking in this case means to not sauté the vegetables on high heat, but keep it at medium (rather medium low than too hot) and let the peppers and onions gently caramelise. Take your time for this step.
- Don’t be shy on the olive oil: While I always avoid cooking in too much regular oil, olive oil does provide a much better and more traditional Italian flavour. So use a good drizzle of good quality olive oil. No need to use the most expensive one in the store, but just a good quality oil that you usually prefer.
- More sweetness: While I like to add a rainbow of colours, if you like the dish to be more sweet, only use the orange, yellow and red peppers. As the green pepper is slightly more bitter it gives a nice balance in flavour to this stew but such bitterness is usually not everyone’s favourite taste.
- To peel or not to peel: I use the peppers with the peel, but feel free to peel before cutting them into strips if you have problems with digesting the peel. Use a thin slicer to remove the skin.
- Add more flavour: After cooking the stew, allow to cool down and leave to rest for a couple of hours. The flavours will further develop to a more concentrated taste.
How to store?
Any leftover can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days in a sealed container. Allow to cool down before putting in the fridge.
When making a large batch you can freeze the peperonata for up to 6 months. After cooking, allow to cool down to room temperature. Make smaller portions and store in airtight freezer-friendly containers. When required, thaw overnight in the fridge and reheat in the microwave or on low heat on the stovetop.
This bell pepper stew is very versatile. It can be eaten and served in multiple ways, such as a vegetable side dish along with almost any kind of main meal, all year round. But it also does great in summer as an addition to a barbecue with any kind of grilled meat, like these chicken skewers or grilled trout.
Peperonata is also delicious as a sauce over pasta, and even over rice dishes, like this Greek lemon rice.
It is even great as an appetizer or antipasto when served with grissini, toasted ciabatta and grilled farm loaf or baguette. It is like serving this as a peperonata bruschetta.
More stew recipes you need to try
- French ratatouille
- South African chakalaka or spicy vegetable stew
- Dogfish stew with bell pepper, fennel and tomatoes
- Spanish chorizo, bell pepper and chickpea stew
Peperonata – Italian stewed peppers
- 1½ pounds (700 grams) bell peppers any colour
- 2 medium onions
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1¾ cup tomatoes (or 1x 14ounce can) peeled and diced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- handful basil leaves
- salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse the bell peppers and cut in half. Remove the stem, seeds and the white membranes. Cut into ¼ inch (or 6 mm) strips.
- Peel and cut the onion lengthwise in half. Finely cut into thin half-moon slices. Peel the garlic and finely slice.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or wide frying pan on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes while stirring regularly until they start to soften. Add the garlic and bell peppers and continue to cook gently for another 5 minutes. Keep stirring regularly.
- Add the white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano. Cook for 1 minute then add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Cover with a lid and reduce to a low heat.
- Leave to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the peppers are tender, but not completely soft. They should still hold their shape.
- Season with fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste. Either serve warm or allow to cool.
- Bell peppers: Use a mix of all colours, or leave out the green and only use the orange, red and yellow for extra sweetness.
- 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 flavours can further develop.