Archived entries for peppers

Ratatatatatouille!

It’s getting to be about that time again. That magical point in the winter where I start to champ at the bit in readiness for spring, where the prospect of being further lost in the wasteland of kale and turnips makes me want to commit ritual hara kiri. I want sunshine on my skin! I want to wear dresses! I want to stop living on cheese! (I know. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But there it is.)

Or, failing all of that, I at least want to eat a vegetable with some freaking color in it. I know, I know. Irresponsible Shiv, with her carbon footprint the size of the Superdome. But…I mean…sometimes in the deep midwinter, you just need a damn tomato. Vitamins, people! Vitamins and cheer!

ratatatat

And it was with that chipper attitude that I approached dinner on Sunday night. I was freshly back from New Orleans, and really excited to rattle around in my kitchen; I was also, however, utterly exhausted, more than a little shell-shocked, and didn’t want to rattle around the kitchen for TOO long. I was also completely depressed by the gray and unforgiving state in which I found my home city upon my return (New York in February: No.), and needed some color; conveniently, Bench (having fended for himself all week) was also in the mood for something colorful and healthy. After a bit of hemming and hawing, we decided to make something that was not only completely veg-tastic, but is a breath of pure summer in the bleak midwinter–and something I’ve been dying to make for a while.

Ratatouille.

Say it out loud. It can’t decide if it wants to pop or sashay. Glorious!

Also delicious, and simple, and quick. At its most basic, ratatouille is a french vegetable stew–tomatoes, squash, and other wonderful things sauteed and then simmered with a few sprigs of thyme. You don’t cook it long, because you want the vegetables to retain their personality;  you want it on the stove just long enough to perfume your house and chase away some winter blues.

We made ours with tomatoes, yellow squash, orange bell peppers, and (against Bench’s initial judgment) eggplant, and it was a knockout. The eggplant became silky and seductive, the peppers smoky and sweet. The thyme infused the whole business with a simple elegance and an absolutely irresistible smell. It was, in short…exactly what the doctor ordered. Warm, simple, sweet, savory, and full of sunshine.

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Yam, Poblano, and Corn Salad: A Perfect Barbecue Side

We had a perfect barbecue the other night. It came together the way summer parties should—casually—with invites issued when inspiration struck that morning at breakfast. Sure enough, plenty of our friends had no plans, and we had a bunch of sausages in the fridge that needed grilling, and the afternoon sun was golden and the breeze was soft. We haven’t gotten enough use of our balcony this summer, so we were determined to park ourselves out there for at least a few hours.

We grilled up bratwurst and hot Italian sausage,  garlic scapes, and long skewers of mushrooms. We ate a loaf of bread with the delicious ricotta spread from Andrew Carmellini’s cookbook Urban Italian. (By the way, does anyone want to try his new restaurant with me? I really, really want to go.)

The unexpected star of the meal was this refreshing side dish, a salad of sweet potatoes and smoky poblano peppers inspired by a recipe I saw in Bon Appetit. The combination of poblano and yam the magazine called for sounded delicious, but after I read those two ingredients, I pretty much ignored the rest of the recipe. I’m glad I wrote down the ingredients as I improvised, because this one is definitely a keeper, great for any barbecues or potlucks you have planned. The flavors mingle as time goes on, so feel free to make it a day ahead.

Once I’d latched on to poblano and yam, I decided to throw in a bunch of sweet corn and brighten it up with a lime juice based dressing, smoky with pimenton and a bit of chile powder. Instead of grilling the yams—which I’m not sure I could have managed without a huge mess—I simply cooked them in the microwave. Even though the yams ended up more mashed than chunked, giving the dish a bit of a strange appearance, everyone couldn’t stop eating it. The zing of lime and sweetness of the vegetables was so fresh and tangy, a great foil for the richness of grilled sausages.

We laughed and talked and passed the platters of food around until the sun went down, and stayed outside with a guitar and a giant bowl full of blueberries long past midnight. Sorry for the noise, neighbors.

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Such stuff as dreams are made of: Stuffed baked peppers

In my world, there are certain flavors that just belong together. Mint and chocolate. Peanut butter and chocolate. Basil and garlic. Sage and onion.

The last one evokes something particularly visceral in me; I think it is related to the fact that sage and onion are major players in my favorite food of all time, Pepperidge Farm’s bread stuffing (yes, I know, prefab, processed blasphemy. But it was an important part of my childhood!). As far as comfort food goes, for me it’s the absolute tops. However, as woman cannot live by bread alone (even delicious, herbed, buttery bread), I have to find ways to introduce the flavor combination into different dishes so as to avoid my inevitable butter-induced coronary just a little bit longer. One of my favorite ways to do this is to use it in stuffed peppers.

peppers

I made my first stuffed peppers when I was still in college and had no idea what I was doing. The filling was some sort of terrifying, flavorless TVP monstrosity, and the peppers themselves were incinerated at the top and still raw at the bottom. Which was, you know. Fine (in that they weren’t poisonous), but they were certainly a confusing state of textural affairs. No, actually, let’s be brutally honest here: the great pepper fail of 1999 was so extreme that I didn’t end up trying them again until, oh, last year, whereupon I stumbled across The Smitten’s adventures in peppers, and her absolutely genius, genius tip that revolutionized my life: pre-bake the peppers. Not long, just enough to soften them up a bit, but not so much that they lose all structural integrity. It was just the stroke of genius my poor peppers needed.

stuffing

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Hearty Pasta: Whole Wheat Fettuccine with Sausage, Peppers, and Onions

I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge lover of whole wheat pasta. I’m not really convinced that it offers a big enough health benefit to make it worth switching over completely. But I found myself craving hearty whole wheat pasta the other day, so I went with it, making a hearty sauce that stood up to the nutty taste of whole-wheat fettuccine.

This is not a traditional peppers-and-onions preparation, but more like a stew with softened grape tomatoes, caramelized onions, sweet fennel, and some spicy Italian sausage. It was inspired by the silky peppers-and-sausage served over polenta at one of our favorite local restaurants, Frankies Spuntino. Fennel fronds and fresh basil brighten it up at the end. The preparation is easy enough for a work night; while the sauce simmers you can make a salad (or, um, finally put away the laundry that’s been sitting around for several days.)

Tossing the pasta in the sauce and letting it mingle and absorb a little before serving is an essential step. I think finishing the pasta this way may be especially important with whole-wheat pasta, which has a stronger flavor of its own. If you make extra sauce, consider freezing it separately before you add the pasta. Continue reading…



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