Every September, my Italian-American family puts up the vinegar peppers. I’m not sure where the expression “put up the peppers” came from but it’s what my Neapolitan grandparents said when it was time to preserve them. Although they didn’t grow in Papa’s garden like tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant, the papacelle sotto aceto were always in our pantry. After all, the green vinegar peppers are the co-star in the insalata di baccala (salt-cod salad) that we make for Christmas Eve. From August until the first autumn chill, food markets in central and southern Italy are packed with papacelle peppers. Indigenous to Naples and the region of Campania, Neapolitans can distinguish the real deal over an imposter. The small peppers range in color from intense yellow and forest green to fire engine and brick red. They are slightly flat and ribbed and the flesh is crunchy and sweet. The first time I saw them in a market in Rome, I nearly burst into tears. Continuing family food traditions makes the 4,000 mile distance between us seem much less. I immediately sent a picture to Mom asking her if they were THE ONES. With her nod, I bought a few pounds to put up the vinegar peppers in our kitchen in Monteverde with Mom’s guidance from Boston.
Many years have passed from the first time that I canned peppers in Rome. Mason jars packed with vinegar peppers have become a permanent part of Francesco and my kitchen shelves. Although Rome is my adopted home, foods like these bring me to my home, to my grandmother’s kitchen, to Christmas Eve dinner and to time spent putting up the peppers with Mom on our summer cottage porch in Maine.
- Papacelle peppers
- Apple cider vinegar
- Dried oregano
- Peeled garlic cloves
- Sterilized mason jars (medium size)
Use a dish towel to wipe each pepper. Make sure the peppers are not bruised. Cut into segments or leave whole. If you cut them into pieces, remove the stem and seeds. If left whole remove the stem end.Place a teaspoon of salt, 2 peeled garlic cloves and oregano in each medium size jar. Fill half of the jar with peppers. Repeat the salt/garlic/oregano mixture. Fill the remainder of the jar with peppers leaving room at the top for another layer of the salt/garlic/oregano mixture.Add 3 parts apple cider vinegar and 1 part water to each jar. Cover tightly. Flip each jar upside down to mix well. Store in a cool location for at minimum of 1 month before opening. We use the green ones in baccala salad and with any recipe that calls for a firm pepper. We use the red and yellow ones with pork chops and potatoes.