Secondo and Gramma Lena

The Saturday morning ritual: Pops and I would drive to the regional market on Saturday mornings to visit the produce distributors, check in with our guy “Da Peppah King” and buy a bushel of Red Bell Peppers. We then would turn around and head back west to Owasco Lake, where my Gramma Pasqualina Rossi kept her spring, summer, and autumnal home. She flew the coop to Florida in the winter.

Pops and I would put on our aprons as Gramma Lena held court at the kitchen table, gently ordering us around like her own private Gomer Pyles as she assumed the  little old lady role of Sergeant Carter.

She was always thin as a bird, with a thinning blue dyed beehive hairdo to match. In stylish glasses of the day that were way too big for her delicate little face, and an omnipresent cigarette dangling from her arthritically gnarled fingers, she’d constantly monitor and advise her familial migrant work force with her gravelly little voice at times, but mostly she’d just wave her hands, throw the patented “Claw”, and point at what she wanted. Italian sign language.

Lena was born in 1900, so by the time she successfully executed her 80th spin around the sun, rendering a bushel of  down to a week’s supply of roasted yummiosity was too much, and her little bony hands just didn’t work like they used to. So she called in the troops, and that was usually Pops and Me, or some kind of combination of the two.

So throughout a Saturday morning, Pops and I would roast, de-seed, and clean a  bushel of peppers, and peel enough garlic for a week’s worth of my Grandmother’s pre-planned entertainment calendar. She always had someone over for lunch, dinner or both every day of the week.  Arrostino Peperones Russo were served at every meal. She ate and served them daily.

Ahh The Red Bell Pepper! One of nature’s most inspired creations! Full of lycopene, beta-carotene, and more vitamin C in a single one that can be found in three oranges of comparable size.

Al and Willard
My Gramma was intent to be celebrated on the Today Show by Willard Scott, but she outlasted him through his retirement. She settled on Al Roker by the time she got close to the century mark. She didn’t quite make it, and passed on to the other side just shy of her 100th birthday.  But she never lost her marbles, and was always alive and vibrant right up until the end... always cooking, and always throwing a little party twice a day. Her chain smoking barely made a dent in her overall health.

Of course, the social calendar kept her active and engaged, but when asked of her secret to her amazing longevity, she always answered, “I eat five things everyday: Garlic, Olive Oil, Broccoli Rabes, Tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers”. Actually, she was so proud of her run that she would secretly prompt me to ask people to ask her how old she was, and how she got there: The answer was always about the food she made everyday of her long and wonderful life.

When I roast peppers now with Pops, I look at his hands, which now resemble and invoke the visual memory of my Grandmother’s hands. Soon my hands will look just like his.

"When I roast peppers now with Pops, I look at his hands, which now resemble and invoke the visual memory of my Grandmother's hands." ~Secondo
We have been cleaning peppers together for my whole life, and a good chunk of his, too.

This dish is a living testament and record of our collective family history.  It's lusciously salacious and passionate just like an Italian Opera.

But every time I taste it, it also invokes the the spirit of my little tiny 4’7” grandmother. She lives on through the food she taught my father, and then myself to prepare: Her spirit fills the room as the aroma of roasting peppers fills the room. And then her spirit fills my heart.

When I make it right, she smiles lovingly at me somewhere from her perch in the Universe. When I over-salt it, I can hear the faint echo of her “Tsk, Tsk, Tsk” from the far reaches of the Galaxies.

The food, ultimately, is a delivery system.



12 Beautiful, and if possible, organically grown Red Bell Peppers
5-7 healthy cloves of fresh Garlic
¼- ⅔rd cup of fresh Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, finely chopped
A copious amount of Filipo Berio Medium Grade Olive Oil... at least a cup.
½ cup Pignoli Nuts, slightly toasted
a handful of Golden California Raisins
Kosher Salt, fine grind to taste
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, again to taste.

Ancillary Gear:

A Large Cookie Sheet or Jelly Roll Pan with raised sides
A Set Of Tongs
A Large Brown Paper Grocery Bag
Nimble Fingers
A Ton Of Patience
The Best Loaf Of Italian Bread You Can Find

When roasting peppers, remember; Its a work / reward ratio and equation. The work is tedious but the rewards and benefits of having freshly roasted peppers on hand far outweighs the work expended to prepare them. Not just for this dish, but for many other culinary and entertainment applications.

Its a job to be done with the people you love, FOR the people you love. Let’s get roasting!

Roasting Red Bell Peppers, and Pepper Roasting Theory

There are many ways of roasting and skinning the proverbial pepper as there are skinning the proverbial cat (If you happen to be a Tyrolean living in Solvay., NY...). You can roast them over the grill. You can use tongs or a heat diffuser and roast them over the open flame of a stove top gas burner. There is no “right” way.

Primo and Secondo
Primo and Secondo and a bunch of Peppahs
There is a hidden method to the madness of Gramma Lena’s, and thus Primo’s preferred method of roasting large quantities of nature’s luscious fruits. They roast them under the broiler in the oven, constantly turning the peppers and the cookie sheet they are resting upon. It's a babysitting job of high magnitude, but there are a few objectives that are achieved by employing this time consuming process.

  1. Peppers have a very high sugar content. To get the most out of the caramelization process of applying constant heat to those sugars, you want to go very slow to bring those sugars to their most flavorful release point.
  2. The peppers roast evenly, and equally, and the pepper flesh can break down to its perfect velvety texture and consistency when roasted correctly. As the juices flow, the cooking process turns from a straight roasting heat directly applied to a combination of roasting and steaming in their own juices. That’s how you get “The Perfect Peppah!”
  3. You become intimately involved with each pepper on the pan. By the time they’re roasted, Primo has anthropomorphized each pepper and given them individual names, conducting little conversations with each one as he roasts them.

    As Primo says: “Ya Gotta CONNECT with the food!” By giving each pepper a personality, he connects with the abundance and gifts of the Universe in a very meditative, and ultimately, grateful way.
  4. Mess Containment. These “Voluptuous Vegga-Ta-Bulls” are juicy. The flowing juices are contained on the cookie sheet, not splattered all over your oven, or on your stove top. The resulting pepper syrup and juice can be reserved, harvested, and used for other applications like a salad dressing, or even poured on top of vanilla ice cream! Try’ll be amazed.
  5. Roasting Peppers at a snail’s pace allows you the time to meaningfully connect with the people who are helping you roast and clean them. That’s probably the most important and critical element of The Rossi Family’s roasting method.

The Steps

The Prep Stage

roast the peppers on a sided sheetPREP STAGE #1: ROASTING

  1. Wash all your peppers, and then dry them with a muppine
  2. Place the peppers on a sided cookie sheet (in some circles called a Jelly Roll Pan) to catch all that beautiful juice!
  3. Position your oven rack 2-3 levels away from your broiler element in your stove, depending on the size of your largest peppers. Not too close, and not too distant from the heat source.
  4. Turn your oven to “Broil” and slide the peppers in “Da Furnace”
  5. Constantly turn not only the peppers, but the cookie sheet itself as they start to roast to achieve a balanced heat distribution.
  6. When the pepper skins start to wrinkle, and then blacken a bit, they start to loose their shape; Turn them upside down so heat is applied to “their little bottoms”, again to apply total roasting action to the complete surface area of the pepper. You don’t want to burn the peppers, although a sufficient amount of blackening does occur... but if you see “tight skin” especially on the bottom of the peppers, they still have a ways to go before throwing them “in da bag”. After peeling, if the pepper flesh isn’t rosy vibrant red, and browned got lazy and cooked them too much and turned them too little. If you pull them out with tight skin, anywhere on the pepper, skinning them will be more laborious than it has to be.
  7. One at a time, after each pepper has reached its full maturation of roasting (they don’t all finish roasting at the same time) place each pepper in a brown paper grocery bag. (Slide another cookie sheet under the bag to catch any leakage) and roll the top of the bag down to seal in the heat. The peppers will continue to steam as they cool down. Reserve the pepper syrup from the roasting pan, if desired.

cleaning peppersPREP STAGE #2: CLEANIN’ DA PEPPAHS

  1. Place a bowl of clean water by your work area (usually over the sink if you have a disposal, or the garbage can nearby if you don’t), and have plenty of muppines on hand. It’s sticky work!
  2. Pop the stem and the seed cap off the pepper, and discard.
  3. Split the pepper in halves and then tear into quarter sections and work on a quadrant at a time
  4. Properly roasted, the skin should just slide smoothly off the pepper section with a single motion.. If you didn’t get the bottoms roasted... this becomes more tedious than it already is.
  5. With your fingers, slide the remaining seeds off the the section, and remove the “beards”; the slimy membranes from the inside of the pepper. Rip that quarter pepper into two strips, and place in your serving / mixing bowl.
  6. cleaned peppersCAUTION! Because of the tedious cleaning process, it’s very tempting to a neophyte to run the pepper sections under water to remove the seeds quickly. You will RUIN your peppers if you do that. All the flavor is in that slimy, juicy coating, and you want to preserve that as much as possible.

    But it is, as mentioned, “sticky work”. After you place your pepper strips in the bowl, dip your hands in the bowl of water, flick the seeds off your hands in the sink, and then dry them completely with a muppine, and go for the next section.

You have now almost completed your prep, and have certainly negotiated the hardest part.


  1. Wash approximately a ½  bunch of fresh, Italian flat leaf parsley. Pull the leaves from the stalks, and DRY the parsley leaves completely with paper towels. You want absolutely no water content in this salad; It’s entirely unappetizing to look at when there’s water in it. The only liquids in this salad should be pepper juice and olive oil.
  2. Choppa da parsley by hand. You want to get it finely chopped without turning it into green goop.
  3. SorvinoWith a razor sharp knife, slice your garlic cloves extremely thinly. You don’t have to use an actual safety razor blade like Paul Sorvino did in “Goodfellas” but that’s what you are shooting for (of course you can try an actual razor blade if you want to connect with your inner Scorcese). You want to end up with delicate, paper thin translucent slices of garlic. Use your knuckle as your blade guide, not your finger tip... chunks of finger tips are NOT a recommended ingredient.
  4. Roast your pignoli nuts on the stovetop over medium heat in a non-stick frying pan. This is another babysitting job, because pine nuts are the original “Tipping Point” nut when roasting them. They take forever to slowly get them just to the point of a golden toasty brown coloring, and then they seem to burn immediately just at the point where you “have ‘em where you want ‘em”. So watch them, shake the pan, stir them, and flip them if you have the skill...but keep them moving, and watch them like a hawk.
  5. Set up your theater of operations: Your bowl of Peppers, Salt, Pepper Mill, Olive Oil, Garlic, Parsley, Toasted Pignoli Nuts and Raisins; all easily accessible within hand’s reach. You’ve now completed all the work, and now comes the fun part; Assembling and Mixing and along with that, your ultimate chef’s reward; TASTE TESTING!

The Assembly Stage

Again, like other dishes in the family repertoire, this is better assembled as a four handed duet  than a solo two handed performance. The “Secondo” mixes, The “Primo” continually  adds the ingredients, monitors and tastes the flavor combinations, the consistency factors, the juice factors, the balance of additional additives and spices, and the overall aesthetic look of the dish.

  1. Make sure the Secundo washes his or her hands. That’s your “mixmaster”.
  2. The Primo is the applier in this dance. First slather a copious amount of olive oil in your mixing bowl... you do this by feel, but you are looking for the proper amount of liquid consistency of your salad. There must be a sufficient amount of liquid to mop up with the freshly baked Italian Bread that is a required companion component when serving the dish, but you don’t want to drown it either. Start with four good swirls, and an extra for good measure. You can always add more later.
  3. The general rule here in assembling the salad is this: You can always add, but you can never subtract. Every ingredient is added stepwise, slowly and conservatively, as your “Secondo” is gently tossing and coating each pepper strip, lovingly mixing by hand and fingers. NO TONGS! To mix, you must caress, and insure total coverage of all of the flavor elements on each little delicate strand of roasted pepper flesh. You do this in rhythm together, like a slow tango; You Add, You Mix, You Taste... You Add, You Mix, You Taste... with each of the salad elements until you bring your creation to its full and balanced flavor climax.

This is where your creation becomes a form of personal expression, and you can elevate a simple salad to a high art, and achieve a higher state of consciousness while creating it.

  1. Add Pepper... don’t be a miser, but don’t be a pepper monkey.
  2. Add your salt a pinch or two at a time. If its too salty to taste, add a little oil as a counterbalance.
  3. Add your garlic slices. Do you like garlic? Go heavy. Are you afraid of garlic? Go light. Its about personal expression, and the dish will end up being an extension and representation of WHO YOU ARE! Exciting, isn’t it?
  4. Add your parsley... this step is just as much about how it looks, as how it tastes. You don’t want overdo the green colored “glitter” and have it over take that luscious and lasciviously passionate red color of the peppahs.
  5. Add your Pignoli...again for checking for aesthetic presentation AND crunch factor, to your feelings and personal taste.
  6. The same goes for the raisins. Not too many, because the peppers are super sweet anyway. But that little raisin explosion and juxtaposition of salty and sweet is a like a little surprise when you bite into one...  a little blast of an alternate color, and an added dimension of experience for those partaking in your creation.
  7. At this point, you’re checking for salt content, and overall juice factor. Not enough Juice? Add some oil, but now you’ll have to readjust your salt. Add pepper if needed as well.

    bread While this is all going on, your Secundo is gingerly mixing... the fun part is tasting continually and discussing collaboratively whether you have it right, or not.

That's it! Cover the bowl and let it marinate for an hour or two before serving. Let that garlic really roll and give those flavors enough time to fully blend. Serve at room temperature.


We serve this delicacy in small individual berry bowls, making sure to use a spoon to ladle a good amount of juice in each bowl for bread dunking purposes. Our guests gather around the kitchen island for their antipasta; They drink their wine, savoring this succulent concoction: dunking their bread in “da Juice” as they witness Primo whipping up the main event and culinary course of the evening. It's only just begun, and you have already been transported to the warm embrace of flavor heaven.

Buon Appetito!

Roasted Red Pepper Salad
“The Laws of Love and Nature.... all in a liddle dish. HA!!!! How good is that?”~ Poppa Primo