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Grilled Eggplant and Sweet Peppers (Antipasto bis di Peperoni e Melanzane)

All summer, Roman markets are filled with beautiful eggplants and peppers, trucked in from nearby farms. The eggplants can be chubby and pale violet to white or sleek and near black. The sweet bell peppers are green, yellow or red and big, often weighing 1 lb. or more each. This recipe pairs the two vegetables because they both do well on the grill and are happy partners—passed with good bread and perhaps slices of mozzarella di bufala—at terrazzo parties, but don’t hesitate to prepare them separately. Both vegetables also make an excellent side dish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • About 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves 
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed 
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar 
  • 3 red or yellow bell peppers 
  • 1 medium-large eggplant, preferably light skinned and round, unpeeled, cut crosswise into slices 3/8 inch thick 
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh herb, such as oregano, flat-leaf parsley or basil (optional) 
  • Salt, preferably freshly ground  
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional) 

Directions:

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for direct grilling over medium-high heat, or preheat the broiler.

Halve the garlic cloves lengthwise and cut away any green shoots. On a cutting board, using a mezzaluna (two-handled curved chopping knife), finely chop together the garlic and parsley. (Alternatively, use a chef’s knife or a small food processor.) Transfer to a bowl (or work directly in the processor bowl), add the 1/2 cup olive oil and the vinegar and mix well. Set aside to use with the grilled eggplant.

If grilling, when the coals are ready, lay the bell peppers and the eggplant slices on the rack about 8 inches above the fire. Grill the peppers, turning as needed, until the skin is evenly blistered on all sides and the flesh is soft but not burned, about 10 minutes total. Cook the eggplant slices, a few at a time if necessary, turning until both sides are marked with brown stripes and are tender, about 6 minutes total. In both cases, the timing will depend on the intensity of the heat.

If using the broiler, arrange the eggplant slices on a broiler pan and place under the broiler about 6 inches from the heat source. Broil, turning once, until lightly browned on both sides and tender, about 4 minutes total, paying closer attention to the color than the timing. Transfer the slices to a plate. Place the bell peppers on the broiler pan and broil, turning as needed, until the skin is evenly blistered and charred, about 10 minutes total; watch carefully to avoid burning their flesh.

Put the peppers in a paper bag, close the top and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove them from the bag, cut off the stem end and a thin slice from the base of each pepper, and pull off all the skin that comes away easily. Slit each pepper open lengthwise and remove and discard the seeds. Using a small, sharp knife, peel away any remaining skin; don’t worry if some small patches won’t come off. Cut lengthwise into strips about 3/8 inch wide. As you work, cut away the ribs and flick away any tenacious seeds. Put the pepper strips in a small serving bowl and toss with the 2 Tbs. olive oil; sprinkle with the chopped herb before serving.

Let the eggplant slices cool slightly. Select a straight-sided glass or ceramic serving dish just large enough to hold the slices tightly packed. Layer the slices with the olive oil-parsley mixture, and top each layer with a little salt and a few red pepper flakes. If the eggplant seems dry, add more olive oil.

The peppers and eggplant can be covered and left at room temperature for up to 1 hour or kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring the vegetables to room temperature before serving. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).