I have been wanting to share this recipe since the day I tried these sweet and sour stuffed capsicums. Finally I sat down to write about them. I tried to remember the first time I had these. I was 22, living in Europe and stuck in Milan with a friend because we missed our flight (I was probably the happiest person you’d ever see that missed their flight). It was the perfect excuse to call my now husband Antonio. Luckily he answered immediately and picked us up straight from the airport. I was both relieved and nervous because now I would need to meet his family. We had just started dating and it was all very unofficial, at this point he didn’t even speak english and I barely could speak in his language, so we were taking our time and it wasn’t in our plans to meet the family. However, I love a spontaneous unplanned day to day life and his family welcomed us into their home. It was August. So it was sticky hot and humid in Northern Italy. They live 30 minutes north of Milan outside the city and in one of the many lovely towns that surround the city, away from any tourist destination. His mum Giovanna, had lots of beautiful food ready to go and to feed us. It was nearly lunch time. And they take lunch time seriously. I clearly remember sitting down at the table that was set for lunch. His dad came home from work for a lunch break as he would do so every day. His brother, sister were all there, and even his Aunt that lived downstairs came over to say hello and join. At that point I was not able to speak a word of Italian to his family. All I could do is smile and say “ciao”, “grazie” , “si” and all I could think about was his mum was probably wondering who are these 2 random Australian girls that my son has brought home. Although those worries all quickly disappeared when she brought out the food, and served us a first course of fresh pasta. Followed by these delicious capsicums and then even more food. I could quickly express my appreciation for everything she cooked. I loved food, and I loved her food immediately. That was not the time of instagram though. Or phone photography. So I don’t even have any visual to remember that day apart from my memory. But I treasure it and I’m now happy to share a recipe from this day.
Now 12 years on, I wondered how do I best describe how to make these? Of course there is a detailed recipe below, as best as I could write it. But, my mother in law Giovanna, who makes these several times during each time that we visit…doesn’t really follow a recipe. She just throws ingredients in without a specific measurement. It always slightly depends on the ingredients at the time. So just adjust it a bit if you feel the need and your cooking instinct takes over. Sometimes I think thats what makes Italian food so delicious…you cook following your own instinct and how you feel the ingredients at the time need to be used. For a cooking culture that has so many rules, there is a freedom in it too. There is your own personal freedom of finding that balance. So I’ve written this recipe slightly differently than usual and I hope it makes sense to you. I feel this structure is a bit easier to follow measurement wise for how this dish is prepared. I apologise for the random numbers! I never weighed the ingredients during the prep process and my mother in law follows the natural Italian cooking approach of “Quanto Basta” …meaning “just enough” …its the perfect amount..the in between of enough but not too much. Others sometimes translate this to “as much as you like or as much as you need”. She finds the middle line that balances the spices, ingredients and that “perfect balance”.
When she made these during our most recent trip, she at first used biologically grown capsicums from regional Italy, the second time she used large slightly different capsicums. The tomatoes, she used large sweet summer grape shaped tomatoes but she has also used ripe large tomatoes, she would just divide them differently. So I do feel this recipe really is a reflection of the ingredients you use. You can always make some great simple adjustments.
Essentially you use a few of the ingredients to make the base ‘sauce’ and then you use exactly the same list of ingredients for the filling of the capsicums (just with a different quantity). The surrounding ‘sauce’ is a result of cooking down the capsicums in the oven. Their natural juice thats drawn out from the heat, salt, sourness and sweetness of the anchovies, grapes, olives and more combines into this sweet and sour fragrant juice. Lots of olive oil helps carry those flavours together, so the more the better of olive oil. It’s what makes this dish so delicious. If you have some fresh white bread, thats a great addition to serve with.
When my mother in law prepares this dish, she doesn’t really cut anything or chop anything on a wooden board. Instead she might use a pairing knife and just roughly cut something while she holds it up in the air with her hands. Or she just uses her fingers to crush and tear the cherry tomatoes that she then places on the baking tray and then once again for the filling of each capsicum. I love this way of prepping ingredients. You can see how she does it on my instagram where I posted a video of her making this dish.
This is a very summery recipe, that comes from her family. She is originally from Naples, so in her cooking, she carries a lot of the flavours and techniques from that region. I hope you enjoy!
Recipe for Stuffed Capsicums
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes – 1 hour 30 minutes
Makes: 7 stuffed capsicums (Adjust the recipe for more everything if you increase to 8 or more capsicums!)
Equipment notes: Use a baking tray with height. Medium-large size. Use a rectangular lid roughly the size of the tray. Otherwise you can use aluminium foil.
For the base ‘sauce’
4 green grapes
4 green olives
10 large cherry tomatoes (if you can use a larger variety of cherry tomato, otherwise if you’re using smaller then just double the amount to 20)
1 large garlic clove (divided and cut into 3 parts)
30g parmesan (grana padano or parmigiano reggiano, sliced into smaller chunks)
2 anchovies (torn into halves)
2 large pinches of dry oregano
7 capsicums (tops cut off and saved to use later, stemmed, cored and inside seeds removed).
21 green grapes
14 green olives
14 cherry tomatoes (if you can use a larger variety of cherry tomato)
4 garlic cloves (cut into 1/3rds)
30g parmesan (grana padano or parmigiano reggiano) (cut into smaller chunks)
4 anchovies (torn into quarters or halves)
2 pinches of dry oregano
olive oil (lots of it)
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
- Place all of the ‘sauce’ ingredients into a baking tray, spreading out evenly. Drizzle the olive oil over the top very generously (the more the better). Sprinkle lots of salt over the tray of ingredients.
- Place the base of each capsicum into the tray so that they are leaning against the wall of the baking tray and place each capsicum base side by side, with the internal part of the capsicums facing up.
- Fill each capsicum with roughly equal amounts of the grapes, olives, garlic and parmesan. Tear and crush each tomato and place 2 into each capsicum, followed by roughly equally divided amounts of the anchovies. Sprinkle with lots of dry oregano and fill each capsicum with approximately 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Season well with salt. Cover each capsicum with the set aside capsicum tops. Place them into each capsicum like a lid to cover the ingredients inside.
- Cover the tray with a lid. Place into the oven to cook for 30 minutes. Afte 30 minutes remove the lid. Carefully turn each capsicum onto the other side, cover with a lid again and cook for another 30 minutes. After 1 hour of total cooking time remove the lid and cook the tray for a further 15-30 minutes (depending on the size and type of capsicums).
- Remove from the oven and let cool slightly for 5 minutes. Serve with fresh bread and lots of that extra juice in the tray.