Friday, February 6, 2009

Pesto Pasta

Thanks to AeroGrow, I have fresh basil in my kitchen, usually more than I know what to do with. The other day, though, I decided to make some pesto.

I usually avoid using a food processor because of the inconvenience it causes in my too-small kitchen, but I didn’t really want to chop a packed cup of basil, so I hauled it out and it did a rather nice job. There are lots of variations on pesto, but this one was the classic basil, pignolia, garlic, oil, salt, and pepper. I didn’t add cheese because I wasn’t sure whether I would freeze it and the hard grated cheeses don’t freeze that well.

It called to me from the refrigerator the very next day, so I was glad I hadn’t frozen it. Ah, yes, I will make some pasta with pesto, a few nice shrimp, and those lovely fresh green beans I just bought. And then…no long pasta in the larder! Who doesn’t have linguine, or vermicelli, or angel hair, or something long in the pasta spot? Argh! I don’t’ know why I have a minor aversion to short pasta with pesto, but I had my heart set enough on this meal to temporarily ignore it.

The only grating cheese I had was asiago, so the pesto became a variation I hadn’t heard of, but tasted quite good nonetheless. The beans and the shrimp were steamed (separately) then tossed in plain butter: between the pesto and the herb garlic bread, the nose had quite enough to do with this meal.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Roast Peppers

Rant Alert: to skip this little diatribe, go directly to the next paragraph. Why do produce suppliers feel the need to affix an adhesive label to every individual piece of fruit or vegetable? They’re such a nuisance to peel off, and if you forget, and wash the produce first, you have to wait until it’s thoroughly dry to remove the label or it will merely shred. A sign in the produce department saying, “Florida Oranges,” “produto de Brasil” or “Mexican Peppers” would suffice. Yet another example of America’s obsession with excessive labeling.

Fairly often, the Woodmans where I shop has clearance produce. Grocery carts full of bulging produce bags for seventy-nine cents each. Saturday, they had both green peppers and bananas in the clearance carts. That’s nearly four pounds of whopping great peppers, suitable for stuffing, at half a pound apiece. Yes, eight huge peppers for under a buck. I also picked up a bag of bananas weighing in at 3-3/4 pounds, mostly ripe, a few partly green, so I see banana bread in my near future.

Most people, when pondering a plethora of prodigious peppers would probably be tempted to stuff them in one way or another; not me. I’m rather cool toward stuffed peppers (except jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese, but that’s a different topic), and rather keen on roasted peppers. Rarely am I without a few in the freezer and I resort to the jarred form only when a large number is required (when serving Italian beef to a couple dozen people).

Usually I roast the peppers on the grill, but I wanted to try out my electric oven and see how it would do in this application. I had more than one panful and I suppose I could’ve just set both ovens to broil, but that seemed a bit excessive at first blush. So I looked up some instructions for roasting peppers in electric ovens and they were, basically, set the oven to 400º F (205º C), put the peppers on a foil-lined pan, and roast, turning every so often until all sides blacken a bit. (The method I use on a grill is to oil the peppers first, but I’m not sure that really serves a purpose, so I decided to roast them dry this time.)

Well, I messed up a little, but here’s how it went.

Lovely peppers ready for the oven.

I put the peppers in and waited for fifteen minutes. Nothing. So I wondered, if you can grill them and broil them, why set the oven temperature so low? Let’s crank it up to 450º. Finally, one turned a little brown, and then…

Oops…THAT’s not supposed to happen.

The burst skin really wasn't a big deal. The underlying flesh did not scorch, so all was well. After about twenty minutes of turning the peppers to char all the sides, I removed the peppers to a large bowl, covered them, and let them steam for about fifteen minutes; use plastic wrap if your bowl or pot doesn’t have a lid. This steaming finishes cooking the pepper and makes the skin that’s not burnt easier to remove.

Why you line the pans.

Ugly peppers before they transform into lovely condiments.

After steaming, the work begins.

If you want to keep the tasty juice, start by popping the top off of a pepper and inverting it over a cup.

Peel the skin from the pepper.

Remove the seeds and ribs.

Ugly peppers transformed into beautiful condiment.

Usually I quarter the peppers and freeze them about two peppers to a bundle in plastic wrap and then put the bundles into a freezer bag. But today I was running a little late, so I poured the reserved juice over the peppers and put the bowl in the fridge to keep until I can finish up. It’s amazing how time flies even when you’re not working!

A few of the green peppers, with much thicker flesh than the others, failed to cook all the way through, and their skins were a little hard to remove. Other than that, the oven method seems to work alright, but I still prefer the grill.

The knife making a guest appearance in this post is one of my favorites: a Kershaw parer that I bought on EBay several years back.

By the way, I thought it safe to use a nylon cutting board because I would just be removing the ribs and seeds, with no cutting against the board to dull the knife blade. So the knife is fine, but the red pepper stained the board badly. I'm going back to wood for all cutting applications. I have bleach, and I know how to use it!