Pick a peck of punchy peppers

JOSEPH BEAUMONT
Last updated 08:32 13/03/2014
Southland Times photo
 

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Capsicums, like their tomato cousins, are summer fruits, although we think of them as vegetables. But phooey to botanical niceties; autumn is upon us and we'll be facing a glut, sure as eggs.

Not that they'll be spilling out of northern Southland glasshouses. At our altitude, the cool and cloudy summer points to capsica (my wee Latin joke) of any variety staying green and bitter-sweet rather than maturing in colour and sweetness.

So bring on the caps from warmer climes, say I, and let's rejoice in their colours - green, red, yellow and orange - flavour and just-right thickness of flesh.

Oddly, perhaps, capsicums lack capsaicin, the volatile oil that gives other members of this large botanical genus - notably chillies - their heat. No problem. Just mix'n'match for the right degree of heat and bitter- sweetness to round out the dish.

Any salad springs to life with the addition of raw caps, chopped or sliced. Just toss them in and taste the difference. Add roasted caps, however, and you're in a different league: they're soft, smoky and intensely flavoured.

Roasting is easy. Preheat the oven to 220C. Put whole peppers on a roasting tray, lined with foil, towards the top of the oven and cook for up to 25 minutes, turning once, until the skins blister and blacken.

Using tongs, transfer to a strong polythene bag, close tightly, and leave for 15 minutes; the skins will now peel off easily. Remove the "innards" and they're ready to use.

Chop roast peppers, ripe tomatoes and parsley and dress with olive oil, lemon juice and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow to stand for an hour before serving. Wow!

Roast peppers also add their special magic to dips, sauces, salsas and soups. Just chop or whizz in the food processor, according to the recipe.

As well as tomatoes they marry well with a host of traditional Mediterranean ingredients, such as anchovies, garlic, chillies, capers, spring onions, preserved lemon and parmesan cheese.

To make stuffed capsicums for 4, boil 2 cups rice until barely cooked. Drain, season with salt and pepper and stir in 3 Tbsp chopped parsley, a pinch of dried marjoram or thyme, the juice of 1 lemon and 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Cut 4 large caps in half longways and remove core and seeds. Divide rice mixture between pepper halves. Pour 2 Tbsp olive oil into a large baking dish, place halves in dish and cover with foil. Bake centre oven at 180C for about 1 hour.

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A colourful lunch dish or starter that is equally good with grilled lamb chops or chicken.

Sometimes a meal is memorable for the wrong reasons. I was just tucking into an aromatic piperade in St-Jean- de-Luz, on the Bay of Biscay, when I spied something in it that was not exactly welcome. A passing waiter whisked the plate away, only to return a minute later with the same plate of food, fly now removed. Cheeky devil.

Today's recipe, a specialty of the Basque region in France, is very good. It mops up capsicums and tomatoes and, with grilled ham or bacon and toasted bread on the side, makes a warming dish on a cool autumn night.

PIPERADE

Serves 4

2 Tbsp good olive oil

1 red onion, chopped small

5 green capsicums, core and seeds removed, cut into strips

1kg ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Large handful fresh basil leaves, torn

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs, beaten

Method

Heat olive oil in a thick-bottomed frying- pan on a medium heat.

Cook onion, stirring, until soft.

Add peppers and cook for 15 minutes.

Add tomatoes, garlic and basil.

Season with salt and pepper and cook until tomatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.

Add beaten eggs, allow them to catch, then stir mixture gently.

Remove from heat when eggs are scrambled to your liking and serve at once.

- The Southland Times

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