I definitely like summer. Not just because I enjoy being outside and feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. But also because of the effect it has on people and places. In the depths of winter, when it is freezing cold, Berlin can look quite dark and gloomy. Although this undoubtedly has a certain charm, I don’t like that lots of people look grumpy. Once the weather becomes warmer it is not only the nature that blooms, but the people also seem to be smiling much more. What has surprised me is the amount of people that flock together in the many parks of Berlin, having just a beer or a well-organized barbecue party. It feels like the entire population is suddenly in the parks. Walking in between all those small and larger groups of people hanging out peacefully immediately makes me feel happy. And although I really like doing a long barbecue session on a wood fire that has been burning for a couple of hours to get properly hot, I would never say no to a simple park barbecue on one of those tiny one-time-use-only barbecues.
One of the other things I love about summer are the fruits and vegetables. Stone fruits like peaches are some of my favourite fruits. And you cannot beat a piece of cold watermelon on a hot day. But also some delicious vegetables are stacked up high on the markets. For example zucchini, tomatoes and capsicums (AKA bell peppers in the UK and USA) are in season.
Now in my opinion, the best thing is to combine those two parts of summer, and to use those summer fruits and vegetables on the barbecue. Of course, next to a classic sausage if you want! Unfortunately I do not have a balcony in my apartment, and I don’t manage to go to the park every day. So in order to replicate a bit of the barbecue flavour, I use my griddle pan and the grill in my oven a lot. Capsicums are one of my favourite vegetables to grill. When you roast them in the oven until their skin begins to blister and blacken, and peel their skin off after, they are extra sweet and really have a roasted and a bit of a smokey flavour. Close your eyes. It is almost the real thing…
So the other day I had potatoes, capsicums, and onions laying around, ready to make “patatas a lo pobre”. This is a south Spanish dish that translates as “poor man’s potatoes” and consists of mainly those three ingredients, fried in abundant olive oil. But somehow I felt more like Italian food, and I really felt like the roasted capsicums as well. Therefore I came up with below dish. Of course, I just made the “patatas a lo pobre” another day again.
Gnocchi with peperonata sauce
It takes a bit of time to make the gnocchi, so when you are working on it you might as well make some extra for another day: they freeze quite well. If you want to freeze the ones you don’t need immediately, just place them in one layer on a plate before they are being cooked. Place this plate in the freezer until the gnocchi are frozen. Then you can take them off and place them in a Tupperware. To make sure they don’t stick, I put a bit of kitchen paper between each layer. When you want to use them, just put them in the boiling water while still frozen.
Ingredients (for 3 or 4 portions, depending on how hungry you are)
- 750 grams of potatoes
- 75 grams of flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 4 red and/or yellow capsicums
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 onion
- Handful of black olives – take the stones out
- 1 red chilli – either fresh or dried
- Balsamic vinegar
- Small bunch of rosemary
- Small bunch of basil
- Around 40 grams of Pecorino Romano – or Parmesan cheese / Grana Padano
- Olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the potatoes in a baking tray. Put the tray in the middle of the oven and roast the potatoes for approximately an hour. The exact roasting time depends on the size of the individual potatoes. So if they are quite small, check before the hour has passed with a knife whether they are soft already.
Meanwhile, chop the capsicums in halves and take the seeds out. Place the capsicum halves with the cut side down on some baking paper or aluminium foil on a baking tray. Put this tray in the oven as well, close to the heat source on top of the oven. Leave them for about 30 minutes, or until the skin has blistered and blackened. Then take them out and let them cool down. Once they are cold enough to handle, take the skin off and discard it. Tear the capsicum halves into pieces.
While the capsicums are cooling down, start on the sauce by finely chopping the onion, the garlic, and the rosemary. Mince the chilli as well. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pot over a medium fire. Add the onion, chilli and a pinch of sugar. Once the onion has softened up, add the garlic, the rosemary and a good pinch of salt and fry until fragrant. Then add the capsicum to the pot and stir well. Use a stab-mixer to blend the capsicum mixture to transform it into a sauce. Otherwise you can transfer the mixture to a blender and pour back in the same pot once blended. The sauce should not be completely fine, I like leaving some chunks of capsicum in there. In case it is too dry, you can add a bit of water. Place the pot with the capsicum sauce over a low fire and add a splash of balsamic vinegar to taste, about a tablespoon. Chop the black olives in chunky pieces and add to the sauce as well. Leave to simmer over a low fire and taste now and again to check on the seasoning. Make sure the sauce does not dry out.
While the sauce is simmering, the potatoes should have cooked all the way through. Take them out of the oven and halve them lengthwise. Let them cool down until you can handle them. Once it is safe to hold the potatoes without burning yourself, take the insides out of the skin and discard the skin. Mash the potatoes very well until you have a smooth purée. Place this purée on your working surface and make a well in the middle. Add a good pinch of salt, the egg yolk, and the flour. Carefully incorporate the egg and the flour into the potato mash. Take care that you don´t overwork the mash. It does not have to be kneaded like a dough, just combined. Once this is done, split the potato mixture in half. Dust your working surface with a bit of flour. Roll, first in between your hands and after that on your working surface, into a long snake-like roll of about a centimeter in diameter. Cut into pieces of about 1.5 to 2 centimeters long. If you want, you can roll them along a fork to create a pattern of small ridges. This does not only look nice, but also helps the sauce to stick a bit better. Repeat this process with the second part of the potato mixture.
Once all the gnocchi have been made, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the gnocchi and boil for around 2 minutes. They will sink down when you put them in the water, and come floating up once they are done. Make sure not to overcrowd the pot, it might be better to boil the gnocchi in batches. When they are done and come floating up, take them out with a slotted spoon and transfer straight into the pot with the sauce.
When all gnocchi have been cooked, divide them over the plates. Add a splash of olive oil and grate a good bit of Pecorino cheese over the portions. Finally, tear up or cut the basil and sprinkle over the plates as well.