Rachel Roddy’s recipe for stuffed red pepper rolls | A kitchen in Rome

Roasted peppers filled with aubergine, mozzarella and anchovies make a rich Italian substitute for British pub grub

There was a staircase off the main bar of the Gardener’s Arms pub. It had thick, red carpet with swirls and led to the flat where the landlady, Alice Jones, our granny, lived with Grandpa, and where we stayed when we visited. When you’re nine years old, being sent to bed is like being banished. Even more so when you’re sent at precisely the moment things are getting interesting: as the pub was filling with regulars whose habits seemed as much a part of the place as the brass fittings, and as Robinson’s bitter rushed into glasses. My younger brother, sister and I would plead for extra time, two more songs on the jukebox, then we’d go upstairs, although rarely to bed. Rather, we’d sit at the top of the staircase and watch the increasingly boisterous scenes through the banisters. Who would notice us first? If it was our parents, we would scatter like marbles; if it was Granny, we knew we had another 10 minutes. We always hoped it would be Colin, our deep-flared, rock’n’roll uncle, who, if we were lucky, would bring us bottles of Schweppes lemonade and bags of crisps.

I like to think I can still remember the prickle of the bubbles and the sting of the crisps. I certainly remember the smell of the pub: an intoxicating mix of beer, bodies, carpet, cocktail cherries, smoke, Brasso and spray polish, and Granny’s perfume. Also, onion or bacon in a hot pan, meat pies, vegetables boiling, chips frying in dripping, or roast lamb – all the things that came out of the kitchen behind the bar of that Oldham pub.

Now, more than ever, when I catch a combination of any of the above, I think: “There you are.” And maybe because I am getting older and the past is getting more cavernous – or because I am a food writer looking for a story – I meet them more and more. In Rome, a thousand miles and 35 years from Oldham, in a trattoria with a TV that smells of roast lamb, roast potatoes, wine, bodies, Covid-precaution disinfectant, the lady on the next table’s hairspray, and thick strips of roast peppers filled and rolled into swirls like the pub carpet.

Another thing I remember from the pub, and something I have mentioned here before, was the oven bottom cakes, so called because they were baked at the bottom of the oven and had floury tops that stuck to the roof of your mouth. Always in search of similarities, and extra time, I find the milk buns in Rome have a similar texture and are ideal vehicles for one of these red pepper rolls, squashed firmly together, also with a few crisps and a good pint of bitter or a bottle of lemonade.

Involtini di peperoni – stuffed red pepper rolls

Serve as a starter, or as a main course with potato and green beans mixed and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
Serves 4

3 large red or yellow peppers
Olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and very finely diced
1 small aubergine, very finely diced
1 tomato, peeled and crushed
Salt and black pepper
tbsp capers
2-3 anchovies
, chopped
100g mozzarella
, finely diced
Dried oregano
A little fresh parsley
, minced
About 2 tbsp soft breadcrumbs

Put the peppers on a baking tray and into an oven heated to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 and bake, turning once halfway, until blackened and blistered all over, which will take about 30 minutes. Put into a bowl, cover with a plate and leave to sit and steam for 20 minutes.

Working carefully (because you want thick strips of flesh), clean the peppers, pull away the skins and brush away the seeds. Rip each pepper into three or four wide strips, saving any scraps.

In a frying pan, warm some olive oil, then fry the onion until soft. Add the aubergine and continue frying, stirring, until golden. Add the tomato and any pepper scraps, and cook for a bit longer.

Season, then the next bit is really up to you: add capers, anchovies, mozzarella, herbs. Now, add enough breadcrumbs and, if necessary, more olive oil to make a stuffing.

Put a spoonful of stuffing at the top of each strip of pepper and roll it up into a neat package. Arrange the pepper rolls in an ovenproof dish brushed with oil and bake at 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas 4 for 10 minutes. Serve as a starter, or as a main course with potato and green beans mixed and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.


Rachel Roddy

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for linguine with clams, squid (and/or prawns), mussels and tomato | A kitchen in Rome
Pretend you’ve got one foot in the Med with this cheerful medley of seafood in a chilli-and-tomato sauce that’s just made for tossing through pasta

Rachel Roddy

23, Aug, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for autumn minestrone with anelli | A kitchen in Rome
Autumn is just made for big soups such as minestrone, and this one is brim-full of mushrooms and mini pasta rings

Rachel Roddy

18, Oct, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for rice salad | A kitchen in Rome
A revisit to an Italian summer favourite, ‘cold tasty rice’ with tuna, tomato, beans, artichoke … and perhaps a whiff of intrigue

Rachel Roddy

13, Sep, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for pasta all’ortolana (aka with lots of vegetables) | A kitchen in Rome
What could be simpler and tastier than pasta cooked up with just about any veg you can get your hands on? Just don’t skimp on the cheese …

Rachel Roddy

09, Aug, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for pasta with sage and pistachio pesto | A kitchen in Rome
The best pesto comes through innovation, and is always best made with the leaves, nuts and cheese that suit your own tastebuds

Rachel Roddy

08, Nov, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for pumpkin caponata | A kitchen in Rome
That most long-lasting of vegetables makes a perfect autumn replacement for aubergine in the classic sweet’n’sour Sicilian dish

Rachel Roddy

01, Nov, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for roast pepper, tuna and anchovy toasts | A kitchen in Rome
Tuna whizzed into a paste with anchovies, capers, parsley, olive oil, then spread on toast and topped with marinated roast peppers: if that doesn’t ring your bell, what will?

Rachel Roddy

14, Jun, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy’s recipe for pizzette fritte | A kitchen in Rome
Pizzette fritte are rustic little snacks comprising deep-fried discs of dough topped with a spoonful of tomato, a little grated parmesan and a basil leaf

Rachel Roddy

30, Aug, 2021 @10:00 AM

Article image
Rachel Roddy: a recipe for life - and for pasta | A kitchen in Rome
When you feel stuck in life and work, start by boiling a pan of water. Then see what you have. Some greens? A handful of olives? Even just butter and cheese will do …

Rachel Roddy

16, Nov, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Gill Meller: five recipes for barbecued vegetables
Forget the bangers and burgers, and pivot your barbecue game to vegetables instead. Try baby beetroot with white bean hummus, grilled courgettes with basil mayo, charred asparagus and buttered new potatoes, little gems with crispy pork, and heritage tomatoes with Italian sausage

Gill Meller

19, Jun, 2021 @10:00 AM