Peter Piper may have picked a peck of pickled peppers, but Pete Aiello prefers his in their glorious prepickled state.
The owner and general manager of Gilroy, Calif.’s Uesugi Farms likes his glossy green and red peppers stuffed, sliced into salads or basted with olive oil and tossed on a grill. And he should know.
We may think of California as the land of artichokes, avocados and strawberries, but the state also leads the nation in bell pepper production, with nearly 9 million cubic tons. That’s a lot of stuffed peppers — and this is peak season for farmers like Aiello, whose acreage stretches from Bakersfield to Brentwood.
Growing the “perfect pepper,” says Aiello, is a lot like raising a large family. It’s a matter of supplying plenty of “elbow grease and tender loving care” every single day.
The bell-shaped pepper adds bright color and flavor to all kinds of cuisines, from savory Persian and Mediterranean dishes to fiery South American fare. It’s no wonder that they pop up in virtually every cookbook, including a slew of just-published tomes. So, we’ve taken a page of inspiration from four of the newest cookbooks, which give California’s most mellow pepper its time in the sun.
You can hide those glorious bells in fajitas or drown them in chili, but why not give them a starring role at the dinner table, says Robert Irvine, who hosts Food Network’s “Dinner: Impossible” — a reality show that sends its chef scrambling to prepare meals in such unlikely venues as an aircraft carrier and an ice hotel. In his newest cookbook, “Impossible to Easy” (William Morrow, $29.99, 294 pages), Irvine suggests tossing diced bell and serrano peppers with tequila-simmered shrimp and linguine for a “playful dish” that’s as easy as it is beautiful.
Annie Bell, author of the new “Gorgeous Vegetables” (Kyle Books, $19.95, 192 pages), layers roasted red peppers with tomatoes, pesto and goat cheese for a gratin that tastes equally good hot, cold or at room temperature. Not a chevre devotee? Use mozzarella instead.
Italian cooking guru Lidia Bastianich goes old school in her “Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy” (Alfred A. Knopf, $35, 414 pages), and stuffs hers with dried porcini, breadcrumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bastinich uses the same mixture to stuff medium zucchini, small tomatoes and sweet Vidalia onions, then serves them on a large platter, family-style. Best of all, she says, they can be served piping hot or at room temperature, as an hors d’oeuvre, a side dish or the main event. They make a great breakfast treat too, topped with a poached or fried egg.
And San Francisco food writer Fran Gage, author of “The New American Olive Oil” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95, 224 pages), uses red peppers in Spanish romescu sauce, Persian muhammara and that classic French picnic sandwich, Pan Bagnat. The latter is best eaten on a beach in Nice, she says, so you can rinse your hands in the Mediterranean Sea between bites. But then, that’s probably true of most things.
ROASTED PEPPER, GOAT CHEESE AND PESTO GRATIN
8 red peppers
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt, black pepper
7 ounces goat cheese, rind removed, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons pesto
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the peppers on an oven rack and roast 20 minutes. Place them inside a plastic bag, wrap well and let cool several hours or overnight.
Skin the peppers, discarding the core and seeds. Cut peppers into wide strips.
Bring a pan of water to a boil. Cut a cone from the top of each tomato to remove the core. Plunge them into the boiling water for 20 seconds, then into cold water. Slip off the skins and slice the tomatoes.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle 1 tablespoon oil into the bottom of a 12-inch oval gratin dish or similar shallow, ovenproof pan. Arrange half the peppers in the bottom, and season them. Lay half the goat cheese over the peppers, then the sliced tomatoes. Drizzle with half the pesto. Lay the remaining peppers in place, season them, and scatter with the remaining cheese. Drizzle with the rest of the pesto, and a couple of tablespoons olive oil. Bake 25-30 minutes. Let cool half an hour or so and serve, warm or at room temperature.
Source: Annie Bell, “Gorgeous Vegetables” (Kyle Books, 192 pp, $19.95)
LINGUINE SERRANO WITH TEQUILA, PEPPERS AND SHRIMP
2 pounds linguine
2 pounds medium shrimp, deveined
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 cup seafood stock
1 shallot, minced
1 serrano pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 each red, yellow and green bell pepper, seeded and cut brunoise
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced, divided
1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups tequila, such as Sauza or Jose Cuervo
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
Salt, pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the linguine.
Peel the shrimp, reserving shells and tails.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells and tails and cook 2 minutes, or until they turn pink. Add stock. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain the liquid into a bowl, discarding the shells.
In the same pan, saute the shallot until it turns translucent. Add the serrano and bell peppers, 1 tablespoon cilantro and the crushed red pepper and cook until the peppers begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the tequila and the reserved seafood stock and cook until the sauce is reduced by half, about 10 minutes over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, cook the linguine and drain well.
Season the shrimp with the Old Bay seasoning, salt and pepper and stir them into the sauce. Cool until just pink, remove from heat and let stand until the shrimp are opaque. Fold the linguine into the sauce, coating well. Garnish with remaining cilantro.
Source: Robert Irvine, “Impossible to Easy” (William Morrow, 294 pages, $29.99)
4 round rolls or a baguette cut into 6-inch pieces
6 tablespoons medium or robust extra virgin olive oil
3 ounces tuna
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, charred with skin, ribs and seeds removed
1/2 cup pitted Nicoise-style olives, rinsed, patted dry
Cut the bread in half lengthwise. Pull out some of the inside crumbs to make more room for the filling.
Brush or drizzle the olive oil evenly over all the inner surfaces.
Layer the filling ingredients on the bottom halves, and cover with the tops.
Tightly wrap the sandwiches in plastic wrap for at least three hours at a cool room temperature before serving, or in a refrigerator overnight. Serve at room temperature.
Source: Fran Gage, “The New American Olive Oil”