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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blackened Peppers Go to the Head of the Class for Versatility

We're at the end of summer and some seasonal vegetables are getting scarce, but happily there's still a bountiful supply of peppers at the local farmers' markets. On a recent visit to the Santa Monica Farmers' Market I saw beautiful examples of red, yellow, and orange peppers at Gloria's Fruits and Vegetables and the Beylik Family Farms stands.

Peppers can be used raw in salads or in a crudité and they're a welcome addition to a stir fry or a sauté.

I've come up with a way of prepping peppers so they're even more versatile.

Grilling Peppers on the Stove Top

To start, simply grill the peppers on top of a gas range, remove the blackened skin, discard the seeds, and put them in a sealed jar where they'll keep a week in the refrigerator or for months in the freezer.

Miraculously overnight the peppers will create their own oil. The peppers can then be used as an appetizer on bread with cheese, in a pasta, or a sauté.

Use a mix of peppers so the result is that much more colorful. As a side note, I haven't had as much success grilling green or purple peppers, so I stick to the red, yellow, and orange ones.

Blackened Peppers with Capers, Parsley, and Garlic

Yield: 6-8 servings
Time: 15 minutes

To add more layers of flavor, I've come up with a simple marinade.

Ingredients

3-4 red, yellow, or orange peppers (washed, pat dried)
4 garlic cloves (skin on)
1 tablespoon capers (drained, finely chopped)
1 tablespoon parsley leaves (washed, dried, finely chopped)
1/4 cup oil from the grilled peppers
4 anchovy fillets (finely chopped) optional

Method

Lay the peppers on a wire rack on a gas burner with the flame turned up high. Turn frequently so the charring happens evenly. Be sure to char the tops and bottoms of the peppers as well. Let cool on a plate, then remove the blackened skin and cut open the peppers and discard the seeds. Put the cooked peppers in a jar and refrigerate.

In the morning you'll find that the peppers have created an oil, approximately 1/4 cup for every 3-4 grilled peppers. The peppers can be kept in any form you like: whole, quartered, julienned, or diced.

The garlic can be used either raw or grilled. If cooked, they'll have a milder flavor, which I prefer. Leave the outer skin or paper on the garlic and skewer the cloves. Blacken them on an open flame on top of the stove until the skins have all but burnt away. Remove and finely chop.

Toss together the peppers, garlic, parsley, and capers. Return to the sealed jar and keep in the refrigerator.

Marinated Peppers as an Appetizer

Yield: 8 servings
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups marinated peppers (julienned or finely chopped)
1/2 pound soft cheese
Olive oil
Pepper flakes
Sea salt and pepper
Toast rounds or crackers

Method

Perfect for a TV-watching party (Presidential debates, football games, any reality show) or an appetizer with wine before a meal, the peppers have so many layers of flavor, they go well with lightly toasted or grilled toast rounds or even with crackers.

Start with a thin slice of goat cheese, a triple cream, or mozzarella, lay on a strand of marinated pepper, and drizzle some of the pepper's own oil. There are variations to play with: add chopped avocado or scallions or cherry tomatoes or grilled corn...

Top with a little olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.

Add a bowl of olives and a glass of chilled white wine, and you'll have an easy-to-make starter.

Vegetarian Pasta with Blackened Peppers and Garlic

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

3/4 box pasta, penne, cavatappi, or spaghetti (cooked in boiling salted water until al dente)
1 cup pasta water
1 cup marinated grilled marinated peppers
1 tablespoon red or yellow onion (peeled, finely chopped)
1 cup olives, cracked green or kalamata (pitted, quartered)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
1 cup Romano or Parmesan cheese (grated)

Method

Sauté the marinated peppers, butter, and deglaze the pan with the pasta water. Simmer a few minutes until the sauce thickens. Add the pasta and toss, continuing to reduce the sauce until it coats the pasta. Add the olives and onions, toss. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper. If you're using anchovies, you won't need any salt.


Top with the grated cheese, finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss and serve with a green salad.