It seems fitting, in the year that celebrates 60 years since the publication of Elizabeth David's A Book of Mediterranean Food, to offer a classic that she helped bring to our notice.This little stew of onions, tomatoes and sweet peppers appeared in more than one of her books. According to the area and whim of the cook, it can also contain potatoes, black olives and garlic. ED uses none of these. (Marcella Hazan adds potatoes.)
Halve, seed and thinly slice two medium-sized peppers, into strips about 1cm wide. Pour 60ml of olive oil into a shallow pan then add a medium-sized onion, thinly sliced. Let it cook until soft and pale then add the pepper. Chop 6 plum tomatoes and add them to the pan, letting the mixture cook down over a low heat for 30-40. Season with salt, pepper and, if necessary, a tiny bit of sugar. Basil leaves can be added if you wish. Serves 4.
The peppers must be sweet and ripe. Don't brown the onion, just let it soften to a pale golden colour. The texture of the peppers and onions should be silky and soft enough to crush between your fingers. The stew will mellow when left in the fridge for a day or two.
I'm not sure I'd risk incurring the late Mrs David's wrath by introducing any twists, but it is worth noting its uses beyond that of an antipasto. I have served it on both soft and toasted polenta, used it as a pasta sauce and even stirred cooked penne through it before baking it with a few slices of mozzarella on top. Drained of its liquid, this recipe makes a splendid stuffing for sourdough sandwiches. You could ring the changes with tarragon instead of the basil or even coriander leaves, as long as you don't call it peperonata. I have used the last dregs from a dish as a pizza topping with surprising success.
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