There was this little, bistro-like spot in my old neighbourhood, romantic but as suitable for a lunch meeting as it was for a date or dinner with your best friend. It was called Niagara Street Cafe, as it was on equally quaint Niagara Street in Toronto. Along with the bread served minutes after seating each party, came a little bowl of peppers in oil. The oil was much more flavourful and spicy than you might expect to just look at it, because those peppers had hung out in there for long enough to make their mark. They seemed simple but they were murmured about at every table, you could overhear it. You could also hear the requests for more bread so that people could soak up every last bit of oil. I think we would have totally ruined our appetites if they weren’t wise about serving just a tiny amount. When I make as close a replication as I can at home to serve to guests before dinner, I only serve the portion below. Never mind saving room for dessert, no one would make it to their first course if there was too much of this around.
Banana Peppers in Oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 hot banana peppers, halved lengthwise, deseeded and deveined, sliced in 1/2″ strips diagonally
1 medium white or yellow onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients except the cayenne to skillet and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions and peppers start to brown, about 7 minutes. You’re looking for a little colour but not for the ingredients to brown too quickly. Reduce heat to medium low and continue to saute, stirring frequently, until the peppers and onions start to caramelize and are quite soft, about another 7 minutes. At this point, taste the mixture and adjust the heat to your liking; if using, stir cayenne pepper through and allow to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer mixture and every drop of that oil to a bowl, and allow to cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with bread, crackers, on a frittata, sandwich, burger…
Make ahead: Allow to cool completely and refrigerate for up to 3 days but bring to room temperature before serving. Freeze for up to 3 weeks, thaw at room temperature.