It is no small feat to move a family of 5 from New Orleans to London for an entire summer each year. So, once we do it, I am not usually that keen to then leave the city, or even the neighborhood. I wait all year to spend 11 weeks in Notting Hill and by the time you count in visits to Leicestershire to see the in-laws, a vacation, and a friend’s posh 40th, we are already grasping for free weekends to sit on our asses in Hyde Park. When friends invited us to come spend the weekend at their stately country home in Norfolk, however, we couldn’t turn them down. This was one we were looking forward to.
We decamped at 9am for our 3-hour car journey from Central London….that took us over 5 hours. Which is what happens when you forget that your 5-month old needs to eat in 3-hour intervals and your 4 and 6-year olds need to snack at precisely 10:3am (damn you Gina Ford and the hold you have on our family).
So unsurprisingly we arrived late and disheveled. The first thing we saw as we turned off of the road and onto the long rocky drive was our hosts for the weekend walking peacefully through a grassy meadow with the warm sun shining on large round wheat bales in the distance. For a moment we were transformed and we were not late with a car full of grumpy, dirty and pukey kids. We eased gently into the drive and a there they stood, dutifully, eager to help us get settled in. Nick and I jumped out, gave big hugs and then opened the back door of the car only to have a magazine, pink bracelet, discarded crisps packet, diet coke tin and two stuffed animals fall out. I could see them take deep breaths and the thought bubble appear, “The Griswalds have arrived.”
After some awkwardness surrounding the 17 people it took to unpack us the weekend took off. Our hosts were gracious, the weather was perfect, the house was gorgeous and the food and wine were fantastic. I also discovered that Nick is a gifted Tennis-Golf player (who knew?). We went seal watching, running along the “water” front and in general just spent a very green weekend out of London with interesting, sophisticated friends who probably NEVER show up with more than a tiny stylish Euro-bag packed with precision for their impeccably dressed toddler.
As it happens we also ate tremendously well, no thanks to these two hands. The longest I spent in the kitchen was to make a cup of tea and to take this pic of Bea, who was super excited to have me in the kitchen with a camera, and who put food on our table each night.
One of my favorite things she whipped up was Piedmontese Peppers which, apparently, everyone knew was a thing besides me. As they were served our hostess informed us that she and her husband frequently make them for dinner when they don’t feel like cooking. Which I found to be sort of hilarious because when I don’t feel like cooking I call the local pizza place who answer the phone, “Hey Jessica, how’s it going?” But she knocks out a fresh, healthful main course. And I’M the food writer? Hmmmmmm.
Anyway — I loved the peppers so much that after we departed and headed to the in-laws for a few days, I picked up the ingredients to try my hand at them. They were met with fanfare by Sally, my pescaterian sister-in-law, but I feared that was only because her other options that night included a choice of either grilled sausage, grilled chicken or grilled lamb. So just to make sure she actually like them and didn’t tear through them because otherwise she’d starve I made them again the next night. And again…success.
So I am now confident in declaring that these are divine. They make an effortless summer lunch, dinner or side any time of the year. The hardest part is peeling the tomatoes – which is made super easy by a technique I learned at ICC. Here’s the way to do it: Put a pot of water on to boil. Using a super sharp paring knife, dig out the brown part at the top where the stem comes out and then cut an “x” in the bottom of each tomato no larger than 1/2″. Drop them in the boiling water for 10-30 seconds depending on how large the tomatoes are. Strain them and then, using the paring knife, peel the skin off of the tomato. Easy peasy.
You can also play around with the ingredients a bit. They are traditionally made with anchovies but you can also skip those if you insist. Top with Feta cheese, or Halloumi or Mozzerella. Maybe sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs on top? Olives? Try your hand at adding a few things.
Another reason they are super is that they make a perfect accompaniment to a grilling evening because you can prep them hours in advance. Place them on a baking sheet, covered, ready to go but just place them in a cool area of your house. Then bake them when you are about 30 minutes from eating. No prep while you are grilling. And if your grilling takes longer than expected they can also sit in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes without becoming toxic or you can pull them out and let them sit out at room temperature on a serving platter for a while.
- 1 Red Bell Pepper
- 1 Yellow Bell Pepper
- 12-16 tomatoes, bigger than a grape, smaller than a golfball
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced super thin
- 6 large fresh basil leaves, slice thin
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- pinch of red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 anchovy fillets
- 1/2 cup feta cut into small cubes
- Cut the bell peppers in half, lengthwise. Remove core but retain stem (which I did not do in these photos). Set aside onto a parchment lined baking sheet -- preferably with low sides.
- Peel the tomatoes (use the technique described within the post) and place them in a large bowl. Add the garlic, capers, basil, salt and black pepper and stir gently.
- Evenly distribute the tomato mixture among the 4 bell pepper halves, the sprinkle red chili flakes on top of each. Add two anchovy fillets, in the shape of an "X" to each bell pepper half then add a light drizzle of olive oil to each.
- Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Remove and let sit for 3-4 minutes to cool down, then gently place on a large serving platter or individual plates.
- It is important to remember to season them well. Don't be skimpy with the capers, or garlic!