Note: Sometimes my two columns that appear in the print version of the Press Democrat make it on line, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t, I post them here, as I’m doing now, with last week’s Seasonal Pantry, which appeared in print on August 17.
Chilies and peppers are ripening and showing up, with increasing abundance, at our farmers markets every week. Local markets have a greater variety than we have typically seen in the past, too, everything from little habañeros to plump poblanos and more. Padrons and shishitos, impossible to find in the United States not that long ago, are everywhere.
It is time a refresher course, so that you can enjoy this year’s pepper harvest to its fullest.
Some people find the most common variety, bell peppers, problematic but there is a solution. Eaten raw or cooked with their thin skin intact, they can have an taste that some people perceive as bitter and others simply as unpleasant. Roasting and peeling cures this so if you want to put bell peppers into a sauce, salsa, soup, or stew, roast it and peel it first. This eliminates pretty much all of the unpleasant flavor; without removing it, a dish can be inedible.
There are several methods for peeling chiles.
One is to grill them over hot coals, put them in plastic bags and let them cool before using your fingers to pull off the charred skins and a small knife to cut out the stem and seed core. You can also use this technique over the burner of a stove. Just be sure not to leave the pepper over the flame for too long or its flesh will be charred all the way through. Instead of a paper bag, you can put the roasted peppers into a large bowl and cover them with a tea towel until they cool.
A French technique takes a bit more preparation but offers excellent results. First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the stems and seed cores from peppers, slice them in half lengthwise, and remove any large veins. Put them in a glass baking dish, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss so that they are evenly coated with oil. Arrange the chiles cut side down in a single layer.
Bake until the skins have blistered; they will not pick up as much color as when they are grilled over coals or a flame, so be sure not to cook them for too long.
Remove from the oven, cool and use your fingers to peel away the skins.
You can use this technique not just for bell peppers for for any pepper or chili, from little serranos to big poblanos. When peeling hot peppers protect your fingers with gloves or scrub them thoroughly after peeling so that you remove hot oils before touching your eyes or other sensitive areas.
Classic Chile Con Queso • Serves 4 to 6
This classic appetizer is delicious and filling so be careful if you serve it as an appetizer; if guests eat too much they may not want anything else. It also makes a great side dish with grilled meats, poultry or vegetables.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 yellow onion, cut into small dice
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt
- 4 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into small diced
- 3 to 4 large poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin 1-inch slices
- ¼ cup Mexican crema or creme fraiche
- ¼ cup Mexican beer, such as Bohemia, or water
- 8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- Warm corn tortillas
- Put the butter into a heavy saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion, sauté until very soft, about 10 minutes, add the garlic, and sauté 1 minute more. Season with salt, stir in the tomatoes and poblanos, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes.
- Carefully taste, correct for salt, stir in the crema or creme fraiche, add the beer or water, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheese and oregano, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Taste, correct the seasoning and serve immediately, with corn tortillas alongside.
Roasted Sweet Peppers with Pasta & Poached Eggs • Serves 4 to 6
Roasted sweet peppers with garlic, anchovies, and vinegar is a classic Italian antipasti. You can turn it into a main course by tossing it with hot pasta and adding a poached egg on top.
- 4 large sweet peppers, a mix of yellow, orange, red, and green, roasted, peeled, and seeded
- 3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into very thin julienne
- 6 to 8 anchovy fillets, cut in half lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons best-quality red wine vinegar
- 4 ounces mozzarella fresca, sliced or torn into small strips
- Black pepper in a mill
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces dried imported pasta, such as strozzapreti, gemelli or cencione
- Kosher salt
- 4 to 6 large farm eggs
- ½ cup fresh chopped Italian parsley leaves
- Cut the peppers into medium julienne and put them in a wide, shallow serving bowl. Add the garlic, anchovies, tablespoon of vinegar, mozzarella, and several very generous turns of black pepper. Toss gently, add the olive oil and set aside.
- Fill a large pot half full with water, season generously with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Fill a wide shallow pan half full with water, add the remaining 2 teaspoons of vinegar and set over medium high heat.
- When the large pot of water reaches a boil, add the pasta, and stir until the water returns to a boil. Cook according to package directions until just done, drain but do not rinse, and tip into the bowl with the peppers. Toss gently, divide among 4 to 6 pasta bowls or soup plates, cover, and keep warm.
- Working quickly, increase the heat under the other pan so that it reaches a rolling boiling. Set a timer for 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time (it can be helpful to break the egg into a small bowl first, especially if you are not used to poaching eggs) and, when the alarm sounds, use a large slotted spoon to lift up the first egg. Gently shake off excess water and set it in one of the bowls. Continue lifting out each egg in the order you put them in so that each one is fully cooked (it should take just 2 minutes for the eggs to be done).
- Season all over the black pepper, a bit of salt, and some parsley and enjoy right away.
Green Chile Chowder • Serves 4 to 6
This chowder is thickened with potatoes, not cream, and so the flavors of the chiles take center stage, with the potatoes forming an earthy foundation. If you don’t care for heat, omit the serranos; if you like a lot of heat, another couple of serranos or serve with a fiery green hot sauce alongside.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 large yellow onions, cut into small dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 or 2 serranos, stemmed, seeded, and minced
- Kosher salt
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3 ½ cups)
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or stock, preferably homemade
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
- 7 large poblanos, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced (about 1 ½ cups)
- 6 ounces Monterey Jack or similar cheese, grated
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- Put the butter into a large saucepan or soup pot set over medium heat and, when it is melted, add the onions and sauté until very soft, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.
- Add the garlic and serranos and sauté 1 minute more. Add the potatoes, stock, oregano and enough water to cover the potatoes by 1 inch. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the dice.
- Stir in the poblanos and simmer 5 minutes more. Pass through a food mill or puree with an immersion blender and strain.
- If the soup seems to thick, thin with a little water and heat through. Stir in the cheese, taste and correct the seasoning. Ladle into soup bowls, top with cilantro and enjoy right away.