Well, what a wonderful Bank Holiday we just had.
We were with friends in Sheffield for the weekend, and the weather was spectacular. Sheffield is a handsome city, and with the tree-lined streets vibrant with fresh green growth and iridescent blossoms, it was a joy to behold.
The drive home, up across Derwent Edge and down into the Holme Valley, was a memorable one. Fields of leapy lambs, cool forests, deep blue twinkling reservoirs and fast-rushing streams – a real boost of endorphins. Everybody looks so much happier when the weather’s fine. And it’s got me in the mood for some warm weather cooking.
I saw the recipe for this sauce way back in September last year and immediately made notes for how best to use it. I suppose it can be made any time of the year – green sauces like this go well with thick steaks, roasts and grills, too – but right now it feels right. I decided to pair it with a wedge of lovely home-baked ciabatta and some classic roasted peppers, Piedmontese-style.
The recipe for these peppers comes from one of my most beloved cookbooks, Leaves From The Walnut Tree, by Franco Taruschio.
I was fortunate to work under Franco at the restaurant shortly after leaving catering school, and learned so much in such a short time from the great man himself, especially the cooking of the various Italian regions and the quest for freshness in one’s ingredients.
In the book he mentions that, back in the early 1960s when he and his wife Ann opened the Walnut Tree, just outside Abergavenny, capsicum peppers were almost impossible to find in the UK. It’s almost laughable to think that, given their popularity these days, they were rare as hen’s teeth only as recently as the 60s. How we’ve all evolved in culinary terms!
And I’m so happy that we can now find peppers even in the most humble local shop, because this recipe is absolutely dynamite. As a starter, with a salad for lunch, accompanying grilled fish, or tucked alongside slices of roast beef or lamb, Piedmontese peppers are a quick, easy and hugely tasty little dish, and a recipe it’s handy to have in the notebook for all manner of occasions.
The true Piedmontese pepper also adds anchovies, but as our bagnetto sauce includes both anchovies and tuna, I think we’re justified in omitting them on this occasion, so as not to overbalance the dish.
Of course, you can buy good ciabatta if you wish, but it’s probably the easiest bread recipe there is, and is so much fun to make, especially with helping hands in the kitchen to knead and stretch while you pretend to be in charge.
The resulting loaves are crunchy-crusted and open-textured, with a deep, yeasty, olive oil flavour that is absolutely irresistible.
Grilled until ever-so slightly charred, and topped with the peppers and a good dollop of the fragrant bagnetto sauce, this is a real taste of the summer ahead.
A great pre-barbecue first course, or a lunch/supper dish in its own right.
For the tuna bagnetto verde sauce:
One large bunch of flatleaf parsley
One free-range egg, hard-boiled
Two tbsps fresh white breadcrumbs
Eight anchovy fillets
A splash of white wine vinegar
A splash of fresh lemon juice
Two teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained
One160g tin of tuna in spring water
One clove of garlic
Approx. 125ml extra-virgin olive oil
For the ciabatta:
600ml water, lukewarm
25ml extra-virgin olive oil
22g dried yeast
1kg strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
Two tablespoons unrefined golden caster sugar
One tablespoon fine sea salt
For the peppers:
Four red peppers (ideally nice ‘square’ ones)
Four ripe plum tomatoes, a good ‘fit’ for the peppers (tinned plum toms will work)
Two cloves garlic
100ml olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly-ground black pepper
First, let’s make the ciabatta bread; sift the flour into a wide bowl. In a jug, add the yeast and oil to the lukewarm water and leave for about 10 mins, until frothy. Add the sugar, and tip the whole lot into the flour. Bring together and knead for 10-20 minutes or so, until you have a smooth and elastic dough. Lightly oil a large bowl and pop the dough in, dust with a little raw flour, and cover the bowl with lightly-oiled clingfilm.
Leave in a warm (but not hot) place for half an hour, until the dough is about doubled in size. Remove the clingfilm and retain it for the second rise. Quickly knock the air from the dough, and shape it into two vaguely rectangular loaves, about 40cm long and 15cm wide. Generously flour a suitable baking tray or two, and carefully slide the loaves onto the trays. Cover loosely with the reserved clingfilm and leave for about an hour to rise once more.
Preheat the oven to 180°C / Gas 4. Gently peel off the clingfilm and quickly move the tray into the hot oven. Carefully close the door so as not to knock out the air bubbles, and bake the loaves for 25-30 minutes, or until nicely golden and crisp, the bottom of each loaf sounding hollow when tapped. Set aside to cool, and start on the bagnetto sauce.
Chop the parsley roughly and add to a blender, along with the egg, garlic, the breadcrumbs and vinegar. Whizz briefly, then add the capers, anchovy fillets, tuna, lemon juice, and whizz the mixture until smooth. With the blender still running, drizzle in the olive oil to make a lovely thick, homogenous sauce. Decant into a suitable container and refrigerate until required. It tastes better if removed from the fridge about an hour before required.
Now for the peppers; peel and finely chop the garlic, and mix with the olive oil. Set to one side. Heat the oven to 190ºC / Gas 5. Halve the peppers and remove the white membranes and any seeds. Set the pepper halves on a lightly-oiled baking sheet. Halve the plum tomatoes and place half, cut-side up, in each of the pepper halves. Drizzle with the garlic oil, and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the peppers are softened and slightly charred and crispy at the edges.
To serve, place two pepper halves on a thick slab of toasted or chargrilled ciabatta, and drizzle with the bagnetto sauce.