Food Ninja – Peperoncini e Melanzane Sott’olio


Or peppers and aubergines (I’m sorry but I really cannot bring myself to say ‘eggplants’) preserved in oil the Italian way.




I’ve been following ace Seattle foodie Salty Seattle, whom I first met at the Ice Cream Social, on Twitter where she’s recently been having a lot of fun with the #foodninja hashtag. So much so that she, Salty Ninja, and her foodie friends Fujimama (Fuji Ninja) and Bell’Alimento (Bella Ninja) have recently set up a Food Ninja competition with some quite fabulous prizes.

Unfortunately it is not entirely clear to me what a ‘food ninja’ actually is, although it appears to involve badass cooking skills (or indeed ‘skillz’), doing death-defying things with knives, high kicks and possibly flying through the air, all while wearing stiletto heels.

So what’s a girl to do when her knife skills are pedestrian, she can’t wear stilettos due to acute plantar fasciitis and she looks ridiculous in a bandanna? After much thought, I decided to do death-defying things with red hot peppers instead.  The good news is that this recipe doesn’t even require badass cooking skills or even skillz, just a bit of care and patience (though don’t mention this to the ninja ladies).



I’ve been wanting to write this post for quite literally years.  When I was living in Europe and after my parents died, I would often spend Christmas with my Italian relatives in Piemonte. And let me tell you, Italy is a very good place to be at Christmas.  The cuisine of Piemonte is rightly famous for its antipasti or appetisers. On the night of Christmas Eve my aunt (a true food ninja if ever I met one) would serve a twenty course feast – a parade of seventeen varied and delicious antipasti which would leave you groaning on the floor before the pasta, meat and dessert courses even made an appearance.

Of these, my very favourites were the piquant ‘sott’olio’ vegetable preserves she would bring up from her cellar – zucchini, artichokes, aubergines and teensy hot peppers stuffed with tuna, all silky smooth and dripping with flavoured oil, just begging to be mopped up with some good crusty bread.

She gave me her recipe but I’ve never made them before – I even added ‘Make Italian Sott’Olio Preserves’ to my list of 101 Things – so it seemed like a sign when I was casting around for something ninja-like to make and I saw precisely the right tiny round bottomed peppers I needed at the farmers’ market (does anyone happen to know what variety these are by the way?)





Peperoncini Ripieni Sott’Olio
(Stuffed Peppers in Oil)

Makes 2 jars
20-30 little round bottomed hot peppers
1 cup (8fl oz) water
1 cup (8fl oz) white wine vinegar
1 can good quality tuna packed in oil
3-4 anchovies packed in oil, rinsed and patted dry
1 tbsp capers packed in vinegar or salt, rinsed and patted dry
2-3 cloves garlic (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Melanzane Sott’Olio
(Aubergines in Oil)

Makes 2 jars
Some beautiful firm aubergines (I used three)
1 cup (8fl oz) water
1 cup (8fl oz) white wine vinegar
6-7 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
dried oregano
dried chili flakes/crushed dried chili
Extra virgin olive oil



First up prepare your vegetables.

Peppers: Cut out the tops of the peppers and scoop out all the seeds with a knife and small spoon. This is pretty time-consuming which is why I only ended up making 28 peppers.  I shall regret this later.



Could this get any more ninja?  Red hot chilis AND knives.



Aubergines: Thinly slice your aubergines lengthwise. If you were a true ninja you’d probably use a ninja star for this, but I used a knife.




Layer the aubergines in a colander with plenty of salt. Put a plate on top and add a heavy weight such as a big bag of flour to squish out all the bitter brown juices.  Leave the aubergines for at least one hour and preferably several.

When the aubergines are ready, rinse off the salt and brown juices and pat off as much excess moisture as you can.  Cut the aubergine slices into strips about an inch or so wide with kitchen scissors.

Aubergines and Peppers: Heat the water and vinegar together until boiling. This recip e is easily scalable so just use as much water and vinegar as you need, remembering to keep a ratio of 1/2 water and 1/2 vinegar. Two cups of liquid is fine for the quantities of vegetables I have here.

Scald the vegetables in the boiling vinegar solution for 2-3 minutes. I did my peppers and aubergines in separate batches so as not to mix the flavours.

When the vegetables are blanched, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and leave them to dry – the aubergines pressed between clean dry teatowels or kitchen towel, and the peppers placed upside down with their bottoms in the air on kitchen towel.




It is very important at this stage to dry the vegetables as much a possible as wet vegetables will go mouldy.  Leave them for several hours – my aunt suggests putting them outside in the sunshine, but then she lives in Italy.

Aubergines:  Sterilise your jars in boiling water.  When the aubergines are very dry, add a layer of oil to the jar, then a layer of aubergine and then a few slices of garlic, a pinch of chili flakes and some sprinkles of oregano. Continue layering the jar in this way until you’ve reached the top, making sure that the aubergine is completely covered with oil. This is again important for the preserving process.



Peppers: Sterilise your jars in boiling water. Prepare your stuffing by breaking up the anchovies with your fingers and stirring them and the capers into the tuna. If possible, gently pulse the mix in food processor until thoroughly amalgamated but stop before it becomes a sloppy puree. Filled the dry, hollow peppers with the mix.





Layer the stuffed peppers, slices of garlic and oil in your prepared jars as before, again covering the peppers completely with oil.

Store everything for several months in a dark, cool, dry place. It’s important to leave them for a little time if you can so that flavours meld and the oil becomes especially delicious.  This is easier said than done.

Serve with good bread, some prosciutto, some delicious tomatoes and a glass of chilled white wine for a taste of the Italian summer all year round.

And so, it was not what I was planning, but the first thing I can fully cross off my 101 Things list is ‘Prepare Italian Sott’Olio Preserves’. Only another 100 things to go.  I’ll do an update post when we finally get to open them, probably around Christmas time.

And if you want to me help me cross ‘Win Something, Anything’ off my list too, then I’ll be posting details of how to vote for this post in the next few days.

Oh and apologies for light posting recently. I managed to lose a bunch of posts I’d prepared, so I’m now having a ton of fun recreating posts I’ve already written up once. So much my favourite thing to do as I’m sure you can imagine.



  1. says

    Oooh, this is so foodninja it hurts. And oh how I’ve been longing for Piemonte now that we’re settling into fall and my thoughts are turning to tartufo bianco, barbaresco and tajarin. The vibrancy of the peppers, your way with words, and the stellar story make this a post every good ninja will not soon forget.

  2. says

    Your photography classes have definitely paid off–the photos are beautiful!
    What I wouldn’t give to sit down to one of your aunt’s Christmas Eve feasts…

  3. says

    My jaw dropped when I saw your photos! My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law make those exact same peppers. They are delicious. We smuggle little jars of the peppers back here to Florida when we come backmfrom visiting them in the summer. And it is like having pure gold in a jar. We eat one at a time to make them last longer. Your photos are amazing.

  4. says

    Thanks for all the compliments! Lora, you MUST make these – gold in a jar is a perfect description and now I have four jars of gold sitting in my house 🙂
    Gypsy, my aunt should sell tickets to her Christmas Eves….
    Salty, yep autumn is Piemonte season. My polenta pot is at the ready…

  5. says

    oooh. your pictures make me smell the veggies…make me dream of sitting in my grandmothers kitchen by the open fireplace in december and prepare all the different dishes for christmas. i know exactly what you’re talking about. makes me wonder what you’re doing all the way up there in seattle! 🙂 love all this food. and you pictures really rock.

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  7. says

    I voted for you Paola. Great recipe and I must say fab photos. As an ex pat hurrah for sticking with ‘aubergine’ but did I see a ‘zucchini’ in there? Hope you win!!

  8. says

    Thanks Lara. That comment made my day – food photography should make you want to eat!
    Mr Cocks, thank you. I’ve decided that zucchini is perfectly acceptable (and especially in this context) since it’s Italian and not some ridiculous made-up word such as ‘sausageplant’. Though if I want to get more votes, I should probably stop being rude about Americans 🙂

  9. says

    I really like the recommendation to have the eggplant very dry before processing. That makes a lot of sense. I look forward to trying your recipe!

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