Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Stuffed Peppers: Inspiration from Virgin Territory

Great cookbooks are more than just the sum of the recipes they contain. Gorgeous photos and recipes can stimulate both the mind and appetite. The stories an author shares can introduce exciting new cultures and ideas, not to mention information about ingredients both familiar and new. And the recipes themselves often teach me new cooking techniques or ways of combining flavors that I hadn't thought of before.

The best do all of the above, and provide the opportunity for me to go off on my own tangents depending on what I have in my pantry or what's in season.

In the category of the best, I would place the new cookbook Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil by Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Though I have to admit that I'm a little jealous that this Maine native who grew up to become a leading authority on olive oil and the Mediterranean diet now lives on a 25-acre olive farm in Tuscany where she and her family produce their own olive oil.

I met the author recently at a reception at the invitation of Cathy Whims of Nostrana, where Nancy told the story of the book while guests were served dishes based on recipes featured in it. One, though, a nettle and spinach flan that the kitchen was inspired to create, was served as an entremet. It celebrated both the spirit of the book and the freshest spring things from our area. It was smooth, bright—obviously I'm still thinking of it—and knee-bucklingly good. Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm was sitting opposite me and I had to laugh as our eyes rolled back in our heads at its incredible deliciousness.

A couple of days later I was paging through the book and came across Nancy's recipe for Eastern Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers with bulgur, tomatoes and spices that would give it a rich Moroccan scent. I didn't have any bulgur on hand, but I did have some of Ayers Creek Farm's frikeh that I'd thoughtfully stashed in the freezer. But then I looked at the cover of the book and there was another roasted stuffed pepper pictured, though this was stuffed with anchovies, tomatoes and capers, meant for serving as an appetizer.


Stuffed Peppers with Frikeh, Tomatoes and Anchovies
Loosely adapted from Virgin Territory by Nancy Harmon Jenkins

1/2 lb. frikeh, barley, farro, bulgur or rice
3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1 onion, chopped fine
1 large fennel bulb, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-oz. tin anchovies, or 8 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed
10 oil-cured black olives, chopped fine
1 pint assorted cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp. capers
1 tsp. paprika, pimenton or piment basquaise
4 medium sweet peppers, halved, seeded and membranes removed
1 c. boiling water
3 oz. fresh chèvre

Place grain (whichever you choose) in medium pot. Add water to cover by 2”. Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer for ten minutes. Check occasionally to make sure water hasn’t been completely absorbed; add more if necessary. When grain is al dente, drain in colander and rinse with cold water.

While grain cooks, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add onion and sauté till translucent. Move onion to edges of pan and add anchovies in center, chopping them until they dissolve. Stir into onions. Add fennel and garlic and sauté till tender.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Put onion mixture into large bowl. Add cooked grain, olives, tomatoes, capers and paprika and combine. Stuff mixture into pepper halves, top with thin slice of chevre, a grinding of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Grease a 9” by 11” glass baking dish with olive oil and pour in boiling water to a depth of 1/2”. Add peppers skin-side down. Bake at 350° for 1 hour.

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