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Red Peppers



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kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus
of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers."
~ Laurie Colwin

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Red Peppers

Home Cooking:
A Writer in the Kitchen

by Laurie Colwin, 1993, HarperPerennial

“A raw red pepper is a nice enough vegetable – crunchy and slightly sweet – but roasted or sautéed in olive oil, the red pepper takes on depth. It becomes soft and intense with a smooth, smoky aftertaste. I have been addicted to paprika – red pepper in its powdered form – all my life and I would not
dream of cooking without it.
I have always believed that if you listen to your food cravings (I do not
mean you constant desired for chocolate brownies) they will tell you what
you need. If you long for bananas, it may be potassium you need. I myself
once experienced a craving for red peppers so intense that I bought a large
bag of them and ate them all as I walked home. Peppers contain large
quantities of vitamin A and lesser amounts of vitamin C, as well as phos-phorus and iron, but what the hell? As a doctor friend of mine once said,
it is silly to do anything for reasons of health. My body may have been
crying out for vitamins, but my spirit wanted red peppers.
Autumn is red pepper season and the tables of farmers’ markets are heaped with them. The best are on the long and skinny (as opposed to round and short) side, and the flesh is thin. The redder the better is my motto, but after peppers ripen, they have to be watched closely and used quickly or they develop unhappy-looking soft patches, and eventually they rot.
A large number of red peppers is a beautiful sight. Even more beautiful is
the sight of them cut into strips and ready to be simmered in a large pot of
fruity olive oil. And of course, most magnificent of all is a large glass jar
packed with fried peppers, studded with slivered garlic cloves, seasoned
with salt, pepper, the juice of half a lemon and covered with the olive oil
they were fried in. Some people might call this Red Pepper Conserve, but
it will always be red pepper sludge to me.
This yummy condiment can be used to create a pasta sauce, or served with mozzarella cheese, or put on egg salad or a hero sandwich, or spread on
Italian bread as an hors d’oeuvre. I confess that I have been known to stand over the jar with a long fork and simply eat the contents by themselves.
In the fall you can often get black and yellow peppers which, along with red and green, look beautiful in a jar to give away to a friend – if you can bear to part with it.
Anyone who has ever been to an Italian restaurant knows that red peppers
and anchovies were made for each other and thus this combination appears
on a thousand menus. Red peppers sometimes turn up instead of green for
stuffed peppers, or they show up in a salad. For most people, that does it
for red peppers, but for addicts, enough is never enough.
I love red peppers fried in olive oil more than almost anything else, but I
am often alone in this adoration. Frequently people want a little something
else with their peppers. For them:


Warm Potato Salad with
Fried Red Peppers

1. Boil the potatoes – the amount depends on how many people you
are feeding. Medium-sized red potatoes are best for this salad. The
ratio of peppers to potatoes is one to three.
2. Cut the peppers into strips and fry gently in olive oil, along with a
few cloves of garlic cut on the diagonal. Add a few grinds of fresh
black pepper.
3. Cut the warm, cooked potatoes into chunks; add the peppers, garlic
and olive oil. Sprinkle with lemon juice and salt and serve warm.

Baked vegetables are a wonderful thing, and always include peppers. Peppers of as many colors as you can get, onions, and large, waxy potatoes cut into rounds cook deliciously in a big roasting pan in a dousing of olive oil and pepper. This dish can be eaten hot, cold, or lukewarm and is perfect for any season: with cold roast chicken in the summer, with a frittata in the spring; with a pot roast in the winter and with little quails in the fall.
But somewhere there are people who do not like olive oil and for them, pimientos are the answer. These are easy to prepare and interesting to young children. Roast the pepper over the gas burner on a skewer or long fork. The skin of the pepper will char and turn black. This is always quite fascinating to watch. Turn the pepper until it is burnt all over and then rinse off the charred skin under cold water. [Actually, you can remove the skin quite easily without rinsing and save some flavor.] This roasting cooks the pepper and gives it a silky texture. At the same time it brings out the smoky taste.
Pimientos can be eaten as is, with salt and pepper, or chopped up in a sandwich, or made into a savory sandwich spread that calls for chopped pimiento, an equal amount of sharp Cheddar cheese chopped fine, a pinch
of pepper and a binding of mayonnaise. [Craig Claiborne did a mean
pimiento cheese!]
A long time ago I fell in love with a dish called Pepper Zucchini served at
a restaurant on the upper East Side of Manhattan called the Café Divino.
Since I do not live on the upper East Side and therefore could not go to
the Café Divino every day, I was forced to try to replicate this dish in my
own insufficient kitchen.


 Pepper Zucchini

1. Make the pimientos in the usual way [roast the red peppers]. Cut in
flat pieces and set aside.
2. Cut four small young zucchini into slices – not too thick or thin –
lengthwise and dust with flour. Fry gently in olive oil. They should be
cooked on both sides, and when they are just beginning to get a little
crisp on one side, they are done. Arrange them on a plate.
3. Place the pimiento on the zucchini. Strain the olive oil and sprinkle on
top. Add several cloves of slivered garlic but remove before serving.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

This is one of the nicest things you will ever eat, and it is good for
you, too.

 Some years ago at a dinner party I was served a braised loin of pork
with vegetables. As good as it was, the vegetables were much more
delectable than the meat.


Braised Fennel, Celery, Onion and Red Pepper

1. Use the bottom part – the heart – of the celery; celery root will
not do for this dish. Cut the celery into four pieces lengthwise.
2. Trim the fennel and cut into four pieces lengthwise.
3. Cut the onions into four pieces lengthwise.
4. Cut the peppers into large strips.
5. Nestle these vegetables together in an ovenproof dish with a lid.
Dot with butter. Add the juice of half a lemon and some chicken
stock (this can be omitted if you are a vegetarian).
6. Add salt and fresh pepper.
7. Bake in a moderate [350 degrees F] oven for about forty minutes.

It is clear that I have come a long way from the days when I would
eat a bag of peppers on the street, but considering that I can eat a
mess of them straight from the frying pan, perhaps I haven’t come
that far after all."

Featured Archive Recipes:
Laurie Colwin on Potato Salad
Portobello Napoleon of Grilled Vegetables
Roasted Peppers with Artichokes
and Feta Cheese

Roasted Red Peppers, Maggie's
Roasted Vegetable Torte
(The Barefoot Contessa)

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