My wife and I traveled to Venice, Italy, in 2006 with her mother and stepfather. It was one of the most amazing vacations we’ve had. For me personally, it was as if I had been transported to a homeland from a former life. I normally have a terrible sense of direction, yet in Venice it was like a map of the city was part of my DNA. After the first day, I didn’t need a map and was soon correcting my wife as to which direction we needed to be heading. I joked with her that I must have been a Venetian barber in a previous life! At every corner I felt as if I had been there before. I’ve never experienced this anywhere else.
One of the great joys of Venice are its numerous Cichetti bars. Cichetti are to Venice what Tapas is to Spain: small, bite-sized portions of food, typically eaten in one or two bites and nearly always enjoyed with an Ombra – a small glass of wine. Of the many varieties of Cichetti we tried, my favorite was the anchovy-stuffed cherry pepper in olive oil. These beautiful little nuggets of flavor perfectly exemplify what I think of as Venetian food – utterly simple yet delicious flavor combinations.
Although the version I had in Venice was stuffed with a thick puree of anchovies and capers, I’ve since had imported versions stuffed with Tuna which have a milder taste but are equally wonderful. The recipe below is a middle ground between the two.
- 15-20 small red cherry peppers
- 1 can (or jar) albacore tuna (buy the fancy tuna packed in olive oil, if possible)
- 8 anchovy fillets
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup white vinegar
- ~1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. capers
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Rinse the cherry peppers.
- Cut off the tops and remove the seeds.
- If using tuna canned in water, drain the tuna and put in a blender. If using tuna packed in olive oil, put the entire contents of the can or jar into the blender.
- Add the anchovies, parsley, capers, and olive oil into the blender. Use a low setting and grind the mixture together for about 30 seconds. If the mixture doesn’t grind well, add more olive oil until the mixture gets ground up. Make sure the mixture isn’t too “loose” – otherwise when you cover the stuffed peppers in oil, the filling will start to come out. If it ends up too loose, add some breadcrumbs to bind it together a bit.
- After grinding in the blender, taste the filling and season with salt & pepper to your liking (be sparing with the salt, as the tuna & anchovies will have already added some saltiness).
- Fill a pot with about 3 inches of water and mix in the vinegar. Bring to a boil.
- Add the peppers to the brine and boil for 5 minutes.
- Remove peppers with a slotted spoon and place in a colander. Rinse with cold water, then pour out any water inside the peppers and place them upside down on a clean kitchen towel or double layer of paper towels. Pat the outsides of the peppers dry with a paper towel and let them sit for 15-20 minutes until completely cooled.
- Using a small spoon or a butter knife, completely fill the peppers with the tuna mixture. You can also put the mixture into a piping bag and pipe the filling in that way. If you don’t have a piping bag, you can use a plastic Ziploc bag with a small bit of the corner snipped off to serve as an impromptu piping bag.
- When all the peppers have been filled, pack them upright in a wide mouth Mason jar or any container, and then pour in extra virgin olive oil until the peppers are completely covered.