Monday, March 4, 2013

Perfectly Piquant Piquillo Peppers

Don't bother making any other appetizers. Maybe have a few thick chunks of chewy Italian bread and a few olives around, but these peppers and a big glass of red wine are all you need before dinner, or, if you're by yourself, instead of dinner. Actually today I had them for lunch. For crunchy texture, serve on pita chips or throw toasted pine nuts in the filling.

1 16 ounce jar whole roasted Piquillo peppers, I used Italbrand
1 small celery stalk, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1/2 sweet onion chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Japanese eggplant, chopped fine
4 large Shitake mushrooms (or Baby Bellas), chopped fine
1/2 cup Cream Sherry, I like Lustau, plus pour a glass for drinking while you cook
1 small handful chopped Italian parsley
A good sweet balsamic vinegar- (I used a fig flavored) 1 tablespoon  plus more for drizzling
plenty of extra virgin olive oil, at least three tablespoons
1 slice of thick cut bacon, or two thin, diced
2 ounces goat cheese
generous salt and pepper
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 rounded teaspoon of dried thyme
1 egg
1/3 cup whole wheat flour, or other flour of your choice, for grain-free I recommend almond meal.

(If you want to make these vegan, use a heaping tablespoon of whole wheat flour instead of the egg, a squeeze of lemon juice and Tofutti cream cheese instead of goat cheese and a tablespoon of pine nuts instead of bacon.)

Drain the peppers in jar, but don't rinse them. 

In this recipe, I want you to sprinkle salt lightly as you cook each ingredient. In a large skillet, heat the tablespoon of olive oil on medium high heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery and garlic first and let those cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until you get browning on all the edges of the little pieces. Then add the finely chopped bacon, eggplant and mushrooms (about a cup chopped each) red pepper flakes, black pepper and thyme. Stir around for another several minutes until the bacon looks cooked.

Add the 1/2 cup sherry and stir around until all of the sherry is either cooked off or absorbed. 
 Remove the mixture to a bowl and mix in with the chopped parsley and tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Let it cool for few minutes, then add the egg and crumbled goat cheese (or other tangy cheese of your choice) and mix well.

Now it's time to stuff the peppers with this filling. These little guys are slippery, so this is probably the most difficult part. If you have large fingers, you might want to use your pinky to shove the filling down to the bottom of each pepper. Just use a light touch and be as careful as you can. It's okay if the peppers are a little torn, the egg in the filling is going to help keep it all together. I laid them out on a sheet of parchment paper as I went along (or wax paper or foil is fine). I had just enough filling for all 14 peppers in my jar.

Next, you can just wipe out your skillet that you've already been using, and heat up a few more tablespoons of olive oil in it, again over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the whole wheat four over your stuffed peppers, and ever so gently kind of roll or flip them over to lightly coat them with flour. Fry them in the pan about 2 minutes per side, I gently flatten them slightly so they cook evenly. I use a small fork to gently flip them (without scratching the pan) but if you have one of those tiny spatulas, that would work nicely.

Serve these hot or room temperature with an extra sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley and an extra drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

These are so freakin' good. Really. 

 Oh and if people claim they don't like eggplant or mushrooms, unless they're allergic, just don't mention what's in them- the flavors take on a different character here because of the cheese and bacon so I think you have a chance of sneaking these past the vegetable haters.