Red bell peppers. Suomi: Punaisia paprikoita.

Many vegetables have been assimilated into Italian cooking from other cultures. Some vegetables that we associate with the Italian cuisine, such as tomatoes and peppers, actually came from the Americas in the sixteenth century.  However, it is what Italian cooks do with vegetables that have made them identifiable with Italian cuisine and what makes them taste do good.  A classic example would be roasting red peppers.  Roasting brings out their sweetness and the roasting gives them a different, richer flavor.   Beyond increasing the sugar in a bell pepper, ripening (red bell peppers are ripened green bell peppers) also doubles the amount of vitamin C.  As the pepper turns from green to red on the vine, the amount of Vitamin A is increased. Red peppers also contain more folate, and are rich in the phytochemicals that help protect us from many diferent chronic diseases. Red pepper ranks among the top ten foods for beta-carotene, lutein and other important antioxidants.  Roasted red peppers can be used in a variety of dishes from pizza to salads. You can even puree it and put it in your pasta sauce.  They are a staple on the antipasto tray and I like to use them for stuffing meat entrees and for sandwich fillings.

Roasting your own peppers taste so much better than the store bought peppers in a jar, and it really isn’t very difficult at all.  I am including a link here for a video that demonstrates the technique for roasting red bell peppers.

http://video.about.com/italianfood/Roasted-Red-Pepper.htm

Heat your broiler (or BBQ grill) to get it warmed up. Rinse the pepper and place it directly on the oven rack right underneath the flame.  The flame will cause the pepper to bubble and turn black. We want this to happen. Once the top side of the pepper turns black, rotate it. Repeat this process until the whole pepper has been roasted.  I usually do four peppers at one time.

Now, take out the pepper and place it in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap.  The pepper will continue to cook in its container. This also loosens the skin. After about 15 minutes, remove the peppers from the bowl and let them cool down a little bit.  Save any liquid that collects in the bottom of the bowl if you are going to make marinated peppers for an appetizer or to add to sandwiches.  To cut your pepper, insert the knife on top and cut around the stem. Slice it in half, and remove the seeds. With a knife, gently scrape off the skin. You can slice the pepper into strips as thick as you want them.

You can use roasted peppers in the following recipes.

Mozzarella and Red Pepper Sandwich

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

Marinated Roasted Red Peppers

4 roasted red bell peppers
Reserved liquid from the roasted peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Cut the flesh into broad strips or bite-size pieces and set them aside.
In a bowl add the olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Put the peppers back into the bowl with the sliced garlic, pepper liquid and carefully toss to combine. If you are planning on serving the peppers the same day, allow them to sit at room temperature. Otherwise, store them in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Chicken Rollatini

Serves 4

4 chicken cutlets (about 4 oz each) or chicken breast halves, trimmed and pounded thin into 4 cutlets

4 roasted red pepper halves

4 slices provolone cheese (deli style)

8 basil leaves

1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth

olive oil

Salt, Pepper and dried basil

Directions

Lay your chicken breasts out flat.

Place 1 slice of provolone cheese on top, then a pepper half and 2 basil leaves.

Roll the chicken breast up as tightly and evenly as possible and secure with toothpicks.

Season rolls with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet. Add chicken and cook over medium heat, turning, until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with dried basil and add wine, cover, and cook over low heat, about 7 minutes. Uncover and transfer rolls to serving platter. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Boil juices in skillet until reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Diagonally slice rolls into thick pieces, drizzle with pan juices, and serve.

I like to serve this dish over a bed of sauteed swiss chard or spinach.

Video link on how to prepare a chicken breast for stuffing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SD76s1JPhQ

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