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"depth of flavor" and stuffed bell peppers

stuffed peppersOne of the biggest cliche lines in any cooking show or competition is 'depth of flavor.' Depth of flavor refers to the layers of flavor within a dish. Using various techniques: toasting or blooming spices, fresh vs dried herbs, adding flavorings at the beginning or end of cooking, reduction, roasting and caramelizing ingredients, seasoning, et al, a chef can manipulate the flavor of a dish. The technique is absolutely true - if overused as a measure of a truly great dish on television.

I re-learned this recently when I used leftovers from several other dishes to prepare a simple dish of stuffed peppers. My leftovers were a tomato sauce used the night before in Ciopinno - and a korean broth I'd used in ramen for lunches during the week. (homemade ramen is a WHOLE other post/story, idea) So when I set out to make my stuffing for the peppers I used the broth to cook the bazmati rice and I added the leftover cioppino sauce to hamburger along with a single diced habanero pepper. 

My favorite broth for ramen is Doenjang Jjigae or Korean Fermented-Bean-Paste Broth. 

  • 2 1/2 cups (600ml) rice-rinsing water or water (see note)
  • 10-15 dried anchovies, heads and entrails removed
  • 1 piece dashima (also sold as kombu, which is the Japanese name)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), such as Togul

In a medium saucepan, combine rice-rinsing water (or water) with anchovies and dashima and bring to a low simmer. Cover the saucepan halfway with a lid and maintain low simmer for 15 minutes. Taste an anchovy; if it still has a noticeable amount of flavor left in it, continue simmering until most of the flavor has been cooked out. Strain, discarding solids. Then - whisk in the doenjang. It should dissolve easily in the broth creating a miso soup like consistency. 

for the Cioppino tomato sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice, fire roasted if you can find them
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 5 cups seafood stock (or chicken stock if you make this sauce only for this recipe)
  • 1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

for my stuffed peppers recipe - I cooked bazmati rice according to directions in the Doenjang broth. It comes out very hydrated - and with that distinctive umami flavor from the anchovies. I cooked a 1/2 pound of hamburger - seasoning with salt and pepper - then added a cup and a half of the Cioppino tomato sauce to the hamburger mixture - and then also the rice.

I prefer stuffed peppers that are still crunchy versus completely soft - so I parboil the peppers for three minutes each - then remove them from the hot water and submerge in a water bath to keep them from continuing to soften.

I then prepare them in a baking dish - and stuff them almost full with the hamburger rice, mixture. I top the pepper with several tablespoons of the tomato sauce - and then top each pepper with feta cheese.

I then bake the peppers for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. They are PIPING hot when they come out - so I usually give them five, ten minutes on the counter before serving. 

To say that the depth of flavor on this dish was off the charts - is an understatement. I did not think how nicely all these flavors would combine.  I have been eating a bowl of the leftover hamburger stuffing the last couple of days for lunch on it's own. 

It's great to have a traditional cooking lesson reflected so clearly in one recipe. Now - would you go to all the trouble of making the seperate broth and sauce everytime? maybe not - but it shows that that little extra bit of effort - truly pays off in spectacular ways.

 

Happy Cooking! 

 

The photo used on this post is not my finished dish. While delicious - none of my photos of this preparation turned out post-worthy. this is stock photography - very close to looking like ours did with a better lighting coordinator and a less hungry husband on set.

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Caponata Pasta

caponata

This caponata sauce stars eggplant, olives, capers, and sherry vinegar, creating a magical marriage of sweet and sour flavors that’s perfect over fresh pasta.Incredibly versatile - caponata can be served by itself or with just about any protein. I've made it with chicken, halibut or tofu. You can also add all sorts of ingredients depending on taste - I've seen caponata with carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, pine nuts, and raisins. It's a very easy, personal stew - and I encourage you to add ingredients to it and make it your own.

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces penne
  • 1 organic globe eggplant
  • 1 or 2 organic shallots
  • 1 or 2 cloves organic peeled fresh garlic
  • ¼ cup pitted Castelvetrano olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 4 or 5 sprigs organic fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1: Prep and cook the eggplant

Bring a medium saucepot of generously salted water to a boil for the penne. Separate the penne so the noodles don’t clump together during cooking.

Remove the stem from the eggplant; cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes.

If you have time, you can remove some of the bitterness of the eggplant by “sweating” it before cooking. Slice the eggplant into ½-inch-thick rounds, sprinkle with salt, and spread in a single layer on a paper-towel-lined sheet pan. Let stand for 10 minutes, then pat dry, cut into ½-inch cubes.

(you can skip this above step, I do, but some people are turned off by eggplant's 'bitterness' - which for me is a plus. I just cut it up into cubes and went straight to the frypan)

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 to 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and lightly salt.

Do not clean the pan.

 

2: Cook the penne

To the pot of boiling water, add the penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the penne, reserving ½ cup (¾ cup) pasta cooking water. Return the penne to the pot; toss with about 2 teaspoons (1 TBL) oil to keep the noodles from sticking and cover until you are ready to serve.

 

3: Bringing it all together...

Peel and coarsely chop the shallots.

Finely chop, press, or grate the garlic.

Coarsely chop the olives, checking for any pits.

Rinse the capers.

Strip the parsley leaves from the stems; coarsely chop the leaves for garnish.

In the same pan used for the eggplant, warm 1 to 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.

Stir in the shallots, garlic, olives, and capers and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the penne and reserved pasta cooking water, and toss to coat. Stir in as much sherry vinegar as you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the penne and caponata sauce to individual bowls. Garnish with the Parmesan and parsley and serve.

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I love this sauce and strawberries are just beautiful this time of year. The sauce comes together quickly and is very versatile - - it can be used on desserts like icecream, breakfasts like oatmeal or granola - or as a sauce for an entree like halibut or pork chops. It's one of my favorite summertime recipes.

Ingredients

  • 10 ripe strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. warm the pan on medium high heat - add the olive oil
  2. saute the strawberries for five minutes in the olive oil, then add the sugar - cooking two more minutes, until strawberries begin to soften
  3. add balsamic vinegar and turn the heat down to medium until vinegar mixture reduces by half into a thick syrup
  4. add orange juice - stir to combine and remove from heat. 
  5. Serve immediately

How to Video:

halibut with strawberry sauce

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Grilled Curried Nectarine Salad

grilled nectarine salad

  • 1 pound firm but ripe apricots, halved and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil x2 - one for the nectarines, one for the pumpkin seeds.
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • fresh mint
  • ground black pepper to taste

 

  • Preheat oven to 425F
     
  • In a large bowl, toss nectarine halves with olive oil; season with salt. Set cut side-down on the grill and cook until lightly charred on cut side, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip and grill until browned and softened on skin side, about 2-3 minutes. 
    Let the nectarines cool, then chop them up into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.
     
  • Spread pumpkin seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until golden and crisp, 12—15 minutes. Watch these carefully, they can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of any eye. Set them on the counter to cool and move on to the next step.
     
  • In a saucepan - melt the butter over medium heat - once melted and foaming add sugar and curry powder. Cook until aromatic - perhaps 1 or 2 minutes - and until complete combined. Take off the heat - add the nectarines and orange juice and gently stir to coat the fruit with the syrup. Drizzle the honey over the top of all of it when you finish. 
     
  • Sprinkle feta, pumpkin seeds and fresh mint over the top, again to taste. Remember that the feta will add saltiness - so be careful not to salt the dish before adding feta. I love mint so I went a bit crazy with it, so I didn't put an amount, its the amount that you like. Fresh spearmint is always the best to use.
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snapper
Tarragon Butter

1 stick butter
1 bushel of fresh tarragon, rough chopped
1 tablespoon of finely diced garlic

melt the butter over medium heat, then add the tarragon and garlic and saute until fragrant - then remove from the heat. Best part of this trick is you could make this batch, then put it in a jar in the fridge and it'll keep for several days.


Carrots

4 carrots run through a mandolin or thinly sliced
1/2 of your tarragon butter from above
2 tablespoons honey

Bring the butter up to bubbling then turn the heat in the pan down to medium low, saute the carrots in the butter then drizzle the pan with two tablespoons of honey. Set the carrots aside.

Snapper

Debone your snapper filets and liberally dust them with fine ground black pepper - add the rest of your tarragon butter to the pan you cooked the carrots in - and cook the snapper turning the heat up to medium-high. 4 minutes per side - then set the fish aside on a plate under tin foil

Finishing the Pasta

the fresh pasta cooks up in about 4 minutes - so you can start that after you flip the snapper.

Drain it carefully - because you are about to add the pasta to the hot butter that you just cooked the fish in - bring the heat up till the pan sizzles with the pasta - and add the carrots back to the pan and toss to make sure carrots and pasta are coated in the butter sauce.

Plate up and top with the pan fried snapper filets.

 

honey glazed carrotsfinished pasta

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