Roasted peppers loom so large on America’s culinary landscape now, it’s hard to believe there was a time when we ignored their very existence. I didn’t get my first taste until a trip through the southern half of Italy. (I was trying to retrace the path of the Crusades during a postgraduate research grant to study medieval cooking.) Today, everyone roasts peppers, but until you’ve done it on the grill — and in particular, until you’ve roasted the peppers caveman style, directly on the embers — you haven’t fully experienced how much burning (and I mean burning) a food can broaden and deepen its flavor.
This bell pepper salad with capers and pine nuts is a sweet-sour salad of flame-charred bell peppers with currants for sweetness, capers for tang, and pine nuts for crunch. In Italian, it’s called “Peperoni ai Ferri con Capperi e Pinoli.”
Step 1: Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high. There is no need to brush or oil the grate.
Step 2: Arrange the bell peppers on the hot grate and grill them until darkly browned and blistered on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side, 12 to 16 minutes in all, turning with tongs. Don’t forget to grill the peppers on the tops and bottoms for 1 to 2 minutes. The idea is to char the skins completely. Transfer the charred peppers to a cutting board and let them cool to room temperature. (No, you don’t need to place them in a paper bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. I’ve found no appreciable difference in ease of peeling.)
Step 3: Using a paring knife, scrape the charred skins off the peppers. There’s no need to remove every last bit; a few black spots will add color and flavor. Cut each pepper in half, remove the — core, and scrape out the seeds. Cut each pepper lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips (or into whatever shape you fancy).
Step 4: Arrange the peppers in a shallow bowl or on a platter. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the peppers. Sprinkle the pine nuts and currants and the capers and parsley, if using, on top. The salad can be prepared to this stage up to 2 hours ahead.
Step 5: Right before serving, season the salad with salt and black pepper to taste. You do this at the last minute so you get to bite into the salt crystals before they completely dissolve.
In the Italian countryside, the bell peppers would be roasted on a charcoal grill. In the city, most people roast the peppers directly on a stove burner. My personal favorite method for roasting the peppers (decidedly un-ltalian) is to place them directly on the embers — without the grill grate. When it comes to imparting a smoky flavor to the peppers, nothing beats roasting in the embers.
How to Toast Nuts & Seeds: Toasting brings out a richer flavor in nuts and seeds. There are two easy ways to do this: Set a dry skillet over medium heat (do not use a nonstick skillet for this). Add the nuts or seeds and heat them until lightly toasted and aromatic, 3 to 5 minutes, shaking the skillet occasionally. Keep an eye on them-you don’t want the nuts or seeds to burn. Transfer the toasted nuts or seeds to a heatproofplate to cool.
You can also toast nuts and seeds in a preheated 350 degrees F oven. Spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet and bake them until lightly browned, five to ten minutes. Again, watch carefully to avoid burning.
This works equally well for almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds, and the like, as well as for bread crumbs.