Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Zen and the Art of Roasted Peppers

If I didn't have my kitchen, I'm pretty sure I would be a Tibetan monk by now. I get more and more breathless as I age.  Enter my breath again as I lean over my kitchen counter in one of my favorite yoga di cucina positions: reaching for the eggplant with one hand while extending my fingers to grasp the cutting board with the other. I'm pretty sure this is because I feel the need for school to start again.  Routines are good.  They can lead to enlightenment. 

And so for now, I'm practicing deep breathing in my Kundalini Kitchen.  Here, I am one with the Universe without even trying. Other favorite kitchen yoga positions: dropping handfuls of pasta into boiling water after I've mindlessly stirred my sauce one more time, or nursing a morning frittata til it's fluffy and just done. Without those rituals keeping my chakras open, it's Tibet here I come. And I won't be stopping to pack my prayer shawl either.
This week, I maintained Universal Consciousness by canning a bushel of roasted red peppers, though I admit I was out of breath by the time I had finished.  Still,  it was worth it as was the trip to our local farm, a place I love to visit this time of year.  We will go often from now til the end of Tomato High Holy Season in September. It is Zen at its finest for me.

Before I share my red pepper recipe with you, here are a few pictures of my favorite farm stand, about half an hour's drive from our house. 
I took one of these bellezze home with me this week. Aren't they beautiful?

I'll be going back for these soon and some fagiolini and melanzane 
Peppers tempting visitors to preserve even more 

You know you're aging when you're more interested in the arrival of vegetable preserving season than the high-healed pumps you fell in love with at the mall!  And to roast and preserve red peppers: clean your jars thoroughly, ensure you have the proper amount of jar lids and rims and prepare all your canning equipment. Wash and dry peppers. Rub with a little olive oil and place in a roasting pan or heavy baking tin. Grill on your BBQ or broil in your oven until blackened on one side; turn and repeat. When peppers are mostly blackened, place them in a large bowl and cover with a plate.  Let them sit for about 20 to 30 minutes while they steam in their own juices. Using a large bowl covered with a plate will help you catch and preserve all the pepper juices.

When cool enough to handle comfortably, remove the stem, skins and seeds.  Resist the temptation to run the peppers under water.  Those seeds are malandrini...harder to remove than bread crumbs in butter...but if you run your peppers under water all your efforts will be undone.  Keep the flavor and run your hands under running water from time to time instead to eliminate seeds. Remove as many of them as possible. The work you put in now will result in a better tomato and red pepper sauce or pizza topping down the road.

When each pepper is cleaned up, cut into half-inch by four-inch strips and drop them into another bowl. After you've cleaned and cut up your last pepper, drizzle the juices from your tin and first bowl to this bowl.  Season with salt, olive oil, a little red wine vinegar, chopped up garlic and mix thoroughly. I use roughly three to four cloves of garlic, two tablespoons of oil to one tablespoon of vinegar for each 10-12 pepper batch.  Preserve in Mason Jars following proper canning instructions. If you've never preserved food in Mason Jars before, this is a good web site to begin with:  

I boil the jars for 10 minutes.  Once cool, I keep them on my counter undisturbed for 24 hours so I can check the seal one last time before placing them in my cantina, another place where I am well, happy, calm and peaceful.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sicilian Orange Salad with a Twist

We were all home for two weeks and-- when we weren't getting on each others' nerves--  it was very nice.  As my mother often said when she tried to get us all moving in the same direction: Ogni Testa e Tribunale.  Roughly translated:  Too many Chiefs, not enough Indians.  What can you do?  Family. Can't live with them...can't live without them.

We hung out mostly in and around our backa yarda and shared lots of laughs and food with other family, friends and neighbors.  We also discovered Torroncino, a new gelato.  Mannaggia. Between rounds of gardening, the Torroncino whispered to me and the hot sun whispered back.  A break is what you need right now.  And something icy cold.

We had Aunt Josie's chocolate cake when she came for dinner, Mr. BBQ's peach cobbler when family was here, and for neighbors:  a dish of Torroncino gelato topped with two tablespoons of freshly brewed espresso, two tablespoons of brandy, a chocolate biscotto and a few brandied cherries preserved by nonna last summer.  I've had more sugar these past two weeks than I've had since Christmas. We can't do this anymore. Sitting at my kitchen table this morning browsing through a cookbook, I came across this quote from a woman named Judith Viorst: "Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands-- and then eat just one of the pieces."  Uh-huh.  Holidays and strength just don't go together.  But it's time to get back to the way we normally eat around here or someone is going to get sick.  I haven't had a Sicilian salad yet this summer and since I'm alone all day today for the first time in a very long time, I made one for lunch. 
Here's my recipe. Work in layers from bottom to top:
6 to 8 leaves,  Romaine lettuce
Two handfuls, sunflower sprouts
A handful of chopped red onion
A handful of cherry slices, walnuts and sunflower seeds
Top with slices of half a large orange 
Dress with a mix of olive oil, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, a little orange juice and organic sea salt

The Torroncino is all gone. I'm cooking lots of vegetables for dinner.