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A luscious baked dish

Piments doux a la piemontaise or sweet peppers with risotto is a luscious dish of roasted peppers, arborio rice, tomatoes and cheese arranged in layers in a gratin dish and baked in the oven. I came across the recipe while browsing recently in my copy of Paul Bocuse, The New Cuisine (Granada, 1978). I happened to have some roasted peppers, prepared earlier in my fridge, so decided to give it a try. It is wonderful.

The dish is French, in the style of the Piedmont region of northern Italy, where roasted peppers and risotto are popular fare. I have since found a different version of the recipe in the Larousse Gastronomique, which has roasted peppers and parmesan cheese and not tomatoes or gruyere, which you may like to try.

Roasted peppers are a bit fiddly to prepare, but worth it for this dish. You can use red peppers, or both red and yellow ones. They can be done well ahead, as can the tomato fondue or sauce. Today's recipe is how I like to make piments doux a la piemontaise. I prefer to use olive oil rather than the traditional butter, but you could add a little for the flavour. The dish is just as delicious when made with organic cheeses that are suitable for vegetarians. I like to serve it with braised broccoli, although a green salad would also be good.

To prepare braised broccoli, trim and cut a head of broccoli into florets, peel and slice the stem. Throw them into boiling salted water and cook for three minutes. Drain and cool. At serving time saute the broccoli in olive oil with garlic and chilli flakes. Add a dash of water and cook for a few minutes until the broccoli is tender.

SWEET PEPPERS WITH RISOTTO

Serves 4 or 5

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1 onion, chopped

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

250g (a brimming cup) arborio rice

2 ΒΌ cups vegetable stock including juice from peppers

pinch saffron threads soaked in warm water (optional)

3 medium (about 750g) red peppers or red and yellow peppers (capsicums)

4 medium (about 550g) tomatoes or drained tomatoes from a can

1 eschalot or clove of garlic, finely chopped

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 bouquet garni of bay, thyme and parsley

a few drops of balsamic vinegar (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp (30g) freshly grated parmesan cheese or other cheese

60g grated gruyere or Swiss-style cheese

Roasting the peppers

Place the peppers on a baking tray and roast in a hot oven for about 30 minutes until blackened and blistered. Turn them during baking. Put the hot peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to cool somewhat. Work over bowl to catch the juices and peel the peppers and remove the stem, membranes and seeds. Cut into strips about 5mm wide. Strain the skins and seeds and add the juices to the stock.

Tomato fondue

To peel and deseed the tomatoes, cut a little cross in their bottoms. Place in a pan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Lift out and put into very cold water for a few minutes. Cut out the stalk ends and core and slip off the skins. Cut the tomatoes in half and flick out the seeds over a strainer and bowl (to save the juices). Chop the flesh quite finely. If using canned tomatoes, just chop them.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil (or butter) in a saute pan with the eschalots or garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes, collected juices, bouquet garni and seasoning to taste. Tinned tomatoes will need a pinch of sugar. Partly cover and cook over low to medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes until reduced and melted into a sauce. Add just a few drops of balsamic and correct the seasoning.

Cooking the rice

If using the saffron, soak in a little warm water for 20 minutes or longer. Heat a medium sized-saucepan with a tablespoon of olive oil and the onion. Fry gently for about 10 minutes until softened. Bring the vegetable stock and saved pepper juices to the boil. Add the rice and cook for a minute until translucent. Pour in the hot stock and saffron and when boiling stir once. Cover the pan, turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes until the rice is tender and has absorbed the stock. Stir in two tablespoons of grated parmesan or other cheese. Add two teaspoons of butter for flavour if you wish, or use olive oil.

Assembling the dish

Brush a fairly deep 23cm round or similar ovenproof dish with olive oil or butter. Preheat the oven to 180C.

Spread half the rice in the bottom of the dish. Spoon on half the tomato sauce and arrange half the peppers over the rice. Repeat the layers and sprinkle the grated cheeses on top. Drizzle with olive oil or dot with butter.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until hot in the middle and the top is melted and golden. Serve hot from the baking dish accompanied by a green vegetable such as broccoli or a salad.

Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer, dlampe@bigpond.net.au

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