The hallmarks of Sicilian cooking are its simplicity and cross-cultural elements. Throughout the centuries Sicily has been occupied by a variety of people: first the Greeks, who brought olives and capers; then the Romans, who grew durum wheat – mostly to bring back to Rome – but some wheat stayed in Sicily and was used to make bread. This led to the Sicilian tradition of adding a bread crumb topping to many dishes.
Later the Persians arrived, settling around Palermo, and introduced eggplant, citrus (oranges and lemons), dried fruit, and Eastern spices to Sicily. Subsequent occupation by French royal families brought tomatoes and peppers, which are native to America, back to Sicily and the rest of Europe. This melding of ingredients and cooking styles over time has created a unique Sicilian cuisine.
I created this recipe as an “improv” with some extra green beans and a red bell pepper during our Sicilian cooking class, our final class in the chef’s training program at the Natural Gourmet. The orange, lemon, and balsamic vinegar lend a sweet-sour note to the dish. Thanks to Chef Rich LaMarita, who gave us a great lecture on Sicily’s food history.
Sicilian Style Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Syrup
Yield: serves 4-6 as a side dish
1 large red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced into strips
3/4 lb string beans, stem ends removed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup balsamic vinegar
zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon)
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Toss vegetables in a large bowl with olive oil and pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer to a sheet pan large enough to hold the vegetables in one layer. Roast at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
While the vegetables are roasting, make the balsamic syrup. Add balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil until the vinegar reduces to about 1/4 cup and has a syrupy consistency when tested with a spoon. Remove from heat.
When vegetables are tender and lightly browned, remove from oven and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with orange zest, orange juice, and lemon juice, and add salt, if needed, to taste. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with balsamic syrup just before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.