October 30, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Roasted and peeled bell pepper strips in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes
Barbara and I had traveled to Italy many times before we were able to arrange a trip to Florence, and it’s almost embarrassing that it took so long to discover this most wonderful of all European cities. We must have just come into some money, as we spent a week at an absolutely splendid hotel. Our first night out we visited what proved to be one of our favorite dining spots, Restaurant Il Cibreo, in front of the San Ambrogio market. It was recommended to us by my old friend Colman Andrews, and it’s one more reason I am deep in his debt. I think we ate there five of the next seven nights, and loved every meal.
One of its greatest charms is the assortment of small plates that seem to appear magically before you as you read through the menu and the wine list. The server provides an excellent description of each dish as it’s placed on the table, but as memorable as each was, one stood out above the others: a bowl of red bell peppers, their skins removed after a quick roasting on an open fire, separated from the core, cut into strips, then bathed in a mix of olive oil and garlic. A scoop of the peppers is placed on a slice of fresh-baked baguette, and the perfect appetizer is born. We finished the entire bowl and I brazenly asked for another. Our server seemed almost flattered.
This is a simple dish yet it draws raves whenever Barbara serves it, which is often this time of year. It’s flavorful, healthy, and refreshing, especially on the warm evenings we still enjoy in northern California. Barbara will serve it alongside a platter of Prosciutto or — my personal favorite — as a side dish to her baked goat cheese salad. When she makes them, I love to smell the peppers as they cook, the pleasant aroma of roasting pepper skins penetrating every nook and cranny of the kitchen.
At Il Cibreo I recall we had the dish with a glass of Pinot Grigio, but at home I prefer it with a Chablis, like those we imported at Kermit Lynch. Recently, Barbara and I tried it with the Neyers Chardonnay ‘304’, our Chablis-style bottling of Chardonnay from Paul Larson’s chilly Carneros District vineyard. It was a perfect match, the crisp acidity of the wine was artfully balanced by the richness of the oil, the texture of both an ideal pairing. We let this wine sit on the lees until bottling which heightens both the body and complexity.
A light, refreshing appetizer isn’t an easy thing to find these days, especially one that’s loaded with flavor. Here’s a simple and delicious way to bring a little bit of Italy to your table, and to give yourself another excuse to open a bottle of the 2018 Neyers Chardonnay ‘304’.