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Peperonata (Sweet-Pepper Stew)

`There are many versions of Peperonata,'.writes Julia della Croce. `I prefer this, one of the simplest, because I love the direct, simple flavor of sweet bell peppers when they are stewed with few other distracting flavors. While red peppers are usual, I like to combine red and yellow ones because the two vibrant colors are stunning together. Peperonata can be served as an antipasto with fresh bread, bruschetta, or crostini; or as a side dish.'

6 medium-sized bell peppers, a mixture of red and yellow

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, quartered and finely sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and bruised

6 vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped; or 1-1/2

cups canned plum tomatoes, drained, seeded, and chopped.

6 large fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces (optional)

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, de-rib them, and remove their stems and seeds. Slice them into long strips 1/2-inch wide. Set aside.

Warm the olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute gently until they are softened, 12 to 15 minutes. Add the pepper strips and saute gently for 5 minutes, tossing. Add the tomatoes, cover, and cook gently; stirring occasionally, until the peppers are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with basil (if using). Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.Note: The flavor of peperonata is improved if it is made in advance and allowed to cool. It can be made 2 or even 3 days in advance of serving, and even reheated if you prefer it hot.

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