peperoni al forno conditi {roasted pepper salad}

I love October. The moment when summer hands the baton to fall. The crisp leaves that crunch under foot with each step. The cooler weather which gives license to wear cashmere sweaters and knee-high boots. And soup—right now my face is burrowed in a bowl of ribolitta, as I try to nurse a cold that snuck up on me two days ago.

This is why I chose October for our wedding. I say I chose it, because any smart husband-to-be knows to leave all the planning to the bride—especially when the bride-to-be is an event planner. I had this wedding thing covered. In just eight days, the 16th will be upon us, the date in which we should be celebrating our wedding anniversary.

A little bit—okay a LOT of my confusion lies in balancing out how I think I should feel with what I actually do feel as the day approaches. He’s only been gone 14 months. Compare that to the 17 years we spent together, and I should want to crawl under a rock on the 16th. And yet I don’t. As I walked through the city last week, feeling a ray of sunshine on my face I felt happy to have had those 17 years with Michael. When I tried to feel sad, because that’s what I imagined I should feel, about him not being here to celebrate, I just couldn’t summon up any sadness. At least not at that very moment, I’m sure the tears will come when they are ready.

For that fleeting second in time, I was filled with genuine happiness at having had Michael in my life. It’s kind of like the cup half full approach to grief. You can decide to keep mourning what was lost—or you can roll up your sleeves and do the real work. The work of moving forward, and with that comes being thankful for what you had, instead of mournful of what is no more. This moment of reckoning obviously comes at different times for everyone, and that is where my confusion lies. Is it acceptable to move forward this soon, or should I still be living in the shadows? One might say this is a question that only I can answer, but the truth is it’s a question that I shouldn’t even be asking myself. Since there is nothing acceptable about this kind of loss, then I get to make the rules for recovery.

My life is what I make of it, and all it takes is hope and a leap of faith to keep moving forward.

That very sentiment is what echoed through my mind as I read My Berlin Kitchen. Luisa’s journey may seem vastly different than mine, but it many ways I feel like a young girl again, struggling to find my voice, figure out who I am exactly, and then taking the chance to trust my instincts and follow my heart.

But it wasn’t just Luisa’s words that spoke to me. Her recipes, each and every one of them worked their way into my dreams as I closed the book each night and set it on my nightstand. A few days after digging into My Berlin Kitchen, I came across some beautiful bell peppers at the farmers’ market, and I knew exactly what to do with them. I loved the simplicity, yet soulfulness of Luisa’s recipe for Peperoni al Forno Conditi.

Having just written a cookbook, one where the recipes are deeply special, like fibers connected to my very being, I understand the personal nature of the recipes in Luisa’s book. That is why I followed it as-is the first time. The second time around, I did make some tweaks, and I almost feel like I need to apologize to Luisa’s mother for even fooling around with it. The biggest change I made to this salad was with the breadcrumbs. When I first made it, the breadcrumbs felt oddly out of place. Since they don’t get tossed into the salad to absorb the juices, they ended up being rather tasteless bits of bread adorning an otherwise lovely dish. I say this with deep respect for the origins of the salad. I decided to make panko-style breadcrumbs and toast them with a bit of olive oil and salt. Not only did it “up” the crunch factor of the breadcrumbs, but this ensures that if you by chance catch a crumb on your fork all by its lonesome, it’s still worth a nibble.

Luisa’s recipe also calls for capers, and while some of you might gasp when I confess this— I don’t really like capers (well, there was this one time I had them fried, and I’d eat a bowl full of ‘em like that!). Anyway, if you’re a fan of capers, go ahead and toss in 1/4 cup salt-cured capers (soaked and drained) into the salad. And if you’re thinking about omitting the anchovies because you have a phobia (I’m normally a part of this club too), I implore you to give them a try, really. I’m the kind of girl who’d never eat a whole anchovy, let alone scatter them across a pizza, but mashed up in a sauce, or in this case a salad, they add a deliciously briny taste that pulls all the flavors together.

peperoni al forno conditi {roasted pepper salad}

barely adapted from My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss

Music Pairing: When You’re Smiling by Louis Prima

serves 4

I took a few liberties with this salad, as mentioned. Luisa’s original recipe calls for oil-cured olives, and the parsley to be minced. I always have kalamata olives on hand, so that is what I decided to use. As for the parsley, I think it’s so under appreciated as a “green” in salads, and take any opportunity possible to keep it in larger pieces. If you’re not used to leaves of parsley—the texture can be odd, then you may want to go ahead and mince it as she does. And see my mention in the post about the breadcrumbs, as it’s definitely a game-changer.

When I first made this salad, it was to accompany a hearty beef stew. The second time, I used it to bulk up a simple lunch of sunny-side up eggs. I’ve since taken to using Luisa’s method for roasting peppers, and keep a jar of them in my fridge. I added a smidge to my ribolitta today, and the night before tossed some strips into a noodle stir-fry. Slow-roasted bell peppers are definitely something I’m adding to my “must-have” fridge pantry.

2 to 3 slices stale white bread (I used a 2-inch piece of stale baguette)

1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon best-quality olive oil

Flaky salt, such as Maldon

3 red bell peppers

3 yellow peppers

1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley (leaves only), roughly torn

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty foil. Place the peppers on the sheet and roast, turning every 10 minutes or so, until they’re blistered and browned all over, about 45 minutes all together. Remove the pan from the oven, and let the peppers sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, tear the bread into chunks and give them a whizz in a food processor until they form coarse, panko-style breadcrumbs.

Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a small skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and season with some salt. Cook, stirring once or twice, until toasted and golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Set the breadcrumbs aside to cool slightly.

Slip the skins off of the roasted peppers, and remove the stem. Cut the pepper in half and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds from the flesh; discard the seeds. Using your hands, tear the peppers apart into slices, and add them to a deep bowl. Add the olives, anchovies, parsley and remaining olive oil. Season with the salt. Toss well to combine.

Spoon the salad onto a serving platter. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top right before serving so they stay crisp.

Comments

  • Winnie: Just want you to know that your blog makes me feel very happy lately. Also: your redesign is magnificent.

  • Milisa Armstrong: I haven’t been here in a while, so I just wanted to say I continue to admire you, your work and your strength. You are a bright spot in so many ways! Love the new site design too.

  • g pickering: when you lose someone suddenly ( i lost my mother the same way) there is no recipe for grief. But there is the spirit that takes you from wave crest to troth and on again, and again, and again. take the journey for what it is, and trust that you will end up where you should.
    and know that you are not alone.

  • IlinaP: Wait a sec, you don’t like capers or anchovies?! And you don’t like bleu cheese?! I shudder. ;-)

  • Kiran @ KiranTarun.com: A very comforting salad. And I don’t like bleu cheese either :)

  • janice: Jennie i really like following your blog. I pray that things always go great for you and your children

  • Maria in NJ: I love bleu cheese…

    anchovies and capers not so much…

    I was looking over your recipes and came across the ricotta pumpkin zeppole “fritters” OMGosh did they look good, I think I am adding this to my Thanksgiving menu…ty..<3…m

  • katia: I agree with Winnie! Always looking forward to your blogposts, your writing is beautiful and I admire your ability to put your feelings into words.
    BTW, I tried your buttermilk chocolate doughnuts the other day …. yumm!! Thank you! :)

  • Cheryl Arkison: I remember my MIL talking to me about the same feelings – she described hers as guilt at being happy. I can say that 8 years later she laughs as we tease her about her boyfriends. Now that is a spot I never imagined we’d get to in those years after my FIL died.
    It’s Tuesday and I’m drinking tea from a mug with happy faces on it. Sometimes you just have to do what feels right and damn expectations.

  • Cindy: Hi Jennie,
    I’ve been reading your blog since the peanut butter pie got passed around. My huband too passed away last year and it will be a year
    Oct 21, but the date of Oct. 16 is also special for me as that was his birthday. I know your pain and understand those feelings. I’m sure we all handle the grief process and timing just a little different. So just trust your own feelings and do what feels right for you.
    And I too am beginning to be thankful for the 20 years I had and try not to think about how it wasn’t enough time. Take care!!

  • Tracey Alvernaz: Hello Jennie,
    Sounds like everything is moving along, some good, some bad. Can’t wait to get your book….glad the sun is on your face , hope it stays there, more often than not.
    Hugs, rainbows and butterflies,
    Tracey A

  • Mandy: Lovely recipe. But, the real reason I want to comment is because I totally understand that moment of happiness. That feeling that you can pick yourself up and you’ll be okay. I myself struggled with trying to make myself sad around certain milestones (birthdays, etc) and normally I could never get there and I felt guilty. At this point, five years later, I know I grieved the right way and I made it. All and all, I am so happy for you and your happiness.

  • Vanessa: Jennie, it has been quite a while since I’ve kept up with your blog. A few months likely. First off, I LOVE the new design :) Secondly, I’m just so so so happy to hear that you have found peace and happiness. It is always comforting to me to read your words – you are so good with putting your feelings out there. As my family is about 9 months behind your grieving process, it gives me much hope that one day my mom will feel the happiness you describe again, and then us too. Thank you for always sharing with us.

  • Devi: Jenny, I’ve been lurking on your blog for many months now, and just wanted to thank you again for your honesty always through this journey of grief. My father-in-law passed away a few months ago, and it’s been a whirlwind for us as well. We travel next week to be with my mother-in-law on October 16 because it would have been their 42nd wedding anniversary.

  • Becky: I feel the same way about capers. Although I seem to have given birth to a child who loves them and keeps trying to shame me into using them more in recipes. “You know what would be really good in this is capers. Oh that’s right, you don’t like them. Maybe if you tried them in this you would change your mind.”

  • Rocky Mountain Woman: You sound happier! A good thing!

    I’ll bet this salad didn’t hurt your mood either…

  • Mary in NY: This looks so good, but the soup Robollita, I have to have that. Hope you feel better soon.

  • bjyorjkynn: you are an exquisite woman and the lives you are touching is countless. you are a ray of sunshine for so many. thank you

  • Tracy: Your website looks gorgeous.
    It has been such an honor to read along as you’ve made your way through the last fourteen months. You give me so much hope, and you and your girls are always in my heart.

  • Jennifer S E: Hi there – not much of a commenter but I just wanted to say – your writing is so wonderful. The simple sentence above “The moment when summer hands the baton to fall.” is amazing. I love the imagery it creates. As I read it I thought “yes, that is exactly what it would look like” and yet it is never a sentence I would have come up with if writing about fall myself! Thank you for sharing your talent with the rest of the world!

  • Jenna | The Paleo Project: I love your redesign and I love that you are so self-aware. It’s more important than grief, than the past and than the future. It’s the time that belongs to you – your present. It’s so, so valuable.

  • Cheer: There is no time table for grief and the “right way” to grieve. Every person handles their grief differently and I speak from experience. I, too, lost my husband after 21 years and am so thankful for those 21 years. Your husband would be proud of you for putting your life back together and moving forward for yourself and your children. Keep on living and loving!

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