Charred Bell Pepper | Cooking With Bells On

Kitchen Hack #3: Charring Peppers Upside Down

Lately I’ve been charring a lot of peppers in development of recipes for this blog. I used to think that the technique – essentially burning peppers over a gas flame in order to loosen the skin for peeling – was mostly unnecessary outside the professional kitchen. Home cooks shouldn’t be so picky as to care about having the experience of a dish tarnished by the snappy bite of a little vegetable skin, right?

Maybe not. I recently began to evolve on this point when I realized that charring poblanos could lend a smoky flavor to my lentil soup. Then I began working on a new recipe featuring red bell peppers, and as I’ve been testing and retesting it over the past week I realized that the skins absolutely had to go for the recipe to work. The thing is, when your recipe calls for 4 red bell peppers, charred, peeled, and seeded, and when you’re making that recipe three or four times in as many days, charring peppers becomes a major pain in the butt. After spending several hours over the past week turning peppers over the stove (many thanks to Brian for manning that station more than once), I decided there had to be a better way.

It took some trial and error, but I eventually settled on a technique to hack the charred pepper. My initial goal was to simplify the process so that it would be less time consuming, but I am pleased to say that my hack actually improved on the efficacy of the pepper-charring as well! The peppers actually burn more evenly, leaving behind no trace of unblemished skin that would otherwise be difficult to peel. So go ahead and forget the tedious stove-top method you were using before; my strategy works better.

To hack charred peppers I use the exposed flame of my broiler to char the peppers for me – I char them upside down! The trick is to deal with the indented shape of the peppers, which makes it nearly impossible for the peppers to blacken evenly (or sometimes at all). To resolve this issue, I remove the core of the pepper and press them flat. By laying the peppers flat against a sheet pan, I am able to easily char several peppers at a time without attending to them at the stove.

Kitchen Hack: Charring Peppers Upside Down

This technique works for any kind of large pepper (bell pepper, jalapeno, poblano, anaheim, etc). Be aware that your kitchen will smell like something is burning as you char the peppers – you’re not doing it wrong, I promise, just open a window.

  1. Place a rack on the top shelf of your oven and turn on the broiler. Line a baking pan with tinfoil.
  2. Cut both ends off the pepper and slice down one side. Remove the seeds and lie the pepper flat, skin-side up. Press firmly to flatten to break and flatten any kinks.
  3. Place the peppers under the broiler until they are just about entirely black, 10-15 minutes.
  4. Remove the blackened peppers and place in a bowl. Cover and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel the peppers and rinse under the tap, if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pickled Purple Cauliflower | Cooking With Bells On

Pickled Purple Cauliflower

You’ve seen Portlandia, right? Wait, you haven’t? Okay, take a minute to consume the spot-on hilarity that is this clip and then I’ll get back to you.

Now that we are on the same page, let’s talk about pickles. Somehow pickles recently got cool, and they have been making a trendy appearance on restaurant menus everywhere. Chefs have been utilizing little bits of pickled vegetables as an alternative to citrus or vinegar, a new way of bringing acidic contrast to a dish. And while I’m sure that pickles will one day be as cliché as foams or truffle oil, I am at the moment really excited to experiment with pickling in my own kitchen.

To tell you the truth, I actually never imagined I would pickle my own vegetables until recently. Pickling seemed to fall into the category of Too Much Work For Home – something I think is a great idea, but too weird and time consuming to bother doing myself. As a result of media inundation (thanks Bon Appetit), though, pickling has gone the way of grinding coffee beans and making ice cream: it’s something I now enthusiastically do.

The purple cauliflower recipe you see here is actually a recipe I developed based on my initial foray into pickling, which was an unexpected success. I made those cauliflower pickles on a whim, an attempt to use up this beautiful hunk of purple mass I had brought home from the grocery store that day. The ratios for vinegar, salt, and water were at best an educated guess, and after mixing everything together I stuck the heavy jar of liquid and vegetable in the back of the fridge, expecting that I would pull it out in the morning to find it perhaps halfway palatable.

What I found the following day really caught me off guard. Not only had the cauliflower actually pickled, but it had taken on the spices I had added in a surprisingly effective way. Where I had expected to find muddy taste and crunchy texture, I instead found toasty heat and pungent anise flavor with a tender bite. I was an instant convert.

Pickled Purple Cauliflower

Makes 1 quart

I call for whole spices in this recipe, and I unfortunately can’t recommend that you substitute with ground spices, which would create a muddy flavor and coating on the vegetables. Feel free to make this recipe without spices, it will still create deliciously pungent pickled vegetables.

Ingredients:

1 tsp cumin seeds

3/4 tsp coriander seeds

3/4 tsp fennel seeds

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1 tsp salt

1 head purple (or white) cauliflower, cut into florets

1 1/2 cup boiling water

Toast the spices: Combine the spices in a pan and toast over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat and crush with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, grind in a spice grinder or small food processor.) You only need to crack open the spices; do not grind into a powder.

Combine ingredients: In a large bowl or quart-sized jar, mix together the toasted and crushed spices with the vinegar, honey, and salt. Add the cauliflower, then top off with boiling water. Stir or shake to combine.

Pickle overnight: Place this bowl or jar in the refrigerator to pickle overnight. Pickled cauliflower will keep up to 2 weeks.

 

Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

My favorite way to cook dinner, one which you’ll probably see me employ over and over again on this site until you beg me to learn to cook another way, involves roasting. It’s a pretty magical process, that of turning bits of raw meat and vegetables into tender, sweet, crisp, delectable dishes simply by closing a hot oven door. Really, though, as wonderful as food cooked this way tastes, I don’t prefer roasting simply with flavor in mind.

The true reason I love to roast is due to the method’s flexibility and forgiving nature. A roasted dish is pretty impossible to screw up. With your oven hot, and it doesn’t really matter how hot, add a bit of oil and seasoning and toss your barely handled ingredients into the oven, then cook until done. Or cook past done, if you’ve got vegetables in there – they’ll only get sweeter and more delicious.

Roasting is incredibly practical, too, especially when cooking dinner just seems like another chore. With all the cooking done in one pan, cleanup is practically non-existent, especially if you’re clever enough to line your baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper – then entire cleanup process just takes crumbling up that lining and tossing it in the wastebin. As for the rest of the time you’re “busy” cooking, hop up on the countertop with a good book and tell people to please leave you alone while you’re getting dinner ready.
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Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

Photo Mar 17, 7 47 12 PM

Serves 4… or, at my house, 2 with lots of leftovers

This is a really lovely winter salad that would do well as an appetizer or side dish. To add a bit more protein and make it more appropriate for dinner, I incorporated some shrimp as well. We don’t often think about roasting shrimp (normally we have them boiled or grilled, or perhaps sauteed) but it’s such an easy way to cook them, especially if you’ve already got your oven hot. It’s harder to overcook them in the oven than it is in a pan and, most importantly, there’s no cleanup involved.

Because of its color and scale, this dish takes well to a rustic presentation. I like to plate it all on one big platter and let people serve themselves from that, though you could plate individually, as well. Note that because the cheese and prosciutto are already quite salty, you may want to hold back on the salt when you season your finished dish.

Ingredients:
1 butternut squash
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
1 small red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp coriander
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined (optional)
1/2 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto
Mesclun salad
Balsamic vinegar
Small wedge of Parmesan

Preheat your oven to 375

Photo Mar 17, 8 03 09 PM

Butternut squash: Cut the neck off the squash, and then halve each of the two sections lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds, and cut each of your sections into quarters. Place these segments onto a roasting pan and scatter some olive oil over them. With a pestle and mortar (or with the end of a wooden spoon in a small bowl), bash up your chile with the coriander and a very big pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Rub this seasoning into your squash, and roast for 45 minutes. Squash will be tender and golden when ready. Allow to cool slightly before plating.

Photo Mar 17, 8 01 12 PM

Shrimp (if using): Toss shrimp with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Distribute on a parchment lined baking sheet. When the squash has only 10 minutes left on the timer, place the shrimp in the oven. Bake for 5 minutes, then carefully flip the shrimp, and bake for another 5 to 7 minutes until golden and pinky-white throughout.

Photo Mar 23, 12 30 26 PM

Plating: First lay your prosciutto on the plate. It will look nicest if you sort of let it fall onto the plate, twisting into little organic piles. With your hands, pull the squash apart into roughly 1-inch pieces, and tuck these amongst the prosciutto. Scatter a few handfuls of salad greens over the dish, tucking it in in places so that everything is visible. Drizzle balsamic vinegar, then olive oil, over the entire dish, and season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave off shards of Parmesan over the finished dish.