Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Mom's Roasted Red Peppers
My mother, Marie Mataraza, cooked for family and friends until she was almost 90 years old. She was happiest when she was feeding people. I obviously inherited my love for cooking from her. Mom's red peppers were always a treat. She would buy big batches in the late fall when they were at their peak, roast them, peel them and freeze those we weren't eating immediately, layered between aluminum foil, so when they were thawed they would peel apart without tearing.
She would pack the layers of peppers in small shallow aluminum trays (she loved exploring the aisles of the local "dollar store") with enough portions for about four servings so they would be handy for Sunday dinners throughout the winter, and as my cousin Michele reminded me today, to give to her many devoted nieces and nephews as a "gift" --and a token of her love-- when they stopped by to see how she was doing.
Our Sunday dinners through the winter always began with antipasti of roasted peppers (from the freezer), drizzled with olive oil, and garnished with capers. We'd eat the delicate strips of pepper and briny capers with chunks of Italian bread dipped into the delicious olive oil before moving on to the pasta course.
Because Mom roasted many peppers at once she would broil her "roasted" peppers. She placed the peppers in neat rows on a sheet pan and broiled them about 2 inches from the heat, turning with tongs as they charred and blistered. Then she would transfer them to a large bowl, cover the bowl with a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle. The skins would peel right off the cooled peppers without resistance. She never rinsed the peppers with water because "that would rinse away all the flavor." As they were peeled, the peppers would be spread out on a plate, but all the roasted juices, seeds and skins were allowed to drop back into the bowl. When she was done peeling the peppers she poured the contents of the bowl into a strainer saving the fragrant and delicious juices, and tossing out the rest. Years later when I began roasting red peppers in my own kitchen I would add the juices to Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup or a quick tomato sauce for pasta, but Mom used them to dress her Roasted Red Pepper and Caper Platter making the bread dipping experience even more luscious.
I "roast" peppers pretty much the way Mom did, although I often line the sheet pan with a big piece of foil and then use the foil to wrap the peppers while they cool. I also use her trick of saving all the juices from the interiors of the peppers to season the platter of peppers at serving time. Because the peppers can be fairly labor intensive--especially if you're preparing a big batch--I have also come up with a short cut.
My short cut is truly roasting since I cook the peppers in a 400 degree oven instead of using the broiler. What I do is quarter, core and seed the peppers before roasting and line them up on a sheet pan lined with a large sheet of foil. (Easier to clean the pan, as well as catch all the juices as the peppers cool.) I season the peppers with a drizzle of oil, some bruised garlic cloves, coarse salt and a grinding of black pepper and roast about 50 minutes turning and moving the peppers on the pan as needed so they blacken evenly. When they get nicely blackened (but not burned!) I remove the pan from the oven, pull the foil up around the peppers, and crimp it closed. Once the peppers are cool the skins will slip right off. This method saves a little time and the peppers are almost as good as Mom's.
I only roast as many peppers as I'll have time to peel, as I'm not as adept at cooking from the freezer as Mom was. I usually do four to six peppers, or one per serving plus a little extra, since it hardly seems worthwhile to do fewer. It's fun to have a child or other willing cook's assistant on hand to help out. As our Nana always said, "Many hands make light work." Even when she was a "difficult teen" our daughter, Stephanie, loved to peel peppers. I would roast them ahead, wrap them in foil to cool and leave them on the kitchen counter for her to peel when she came in from school. Today Stephanie's daughter, Seraphina, has been known to pitch in with the pepper peeling task.
Mom's Roasted Red Pepper and Caper Platter
Roasted and peeled red peppers won't last in the refrigerator too long. I never store them for more than 4 or 5 days. But it's easy to use of leftovers. They're great on sandwiches, finely chopped and served with a slice of cheese or curls of Parmesan on crostini, stirred into soup, added to salad and tossed with pasta.
For your platter of Roasted Red Peppers with Capers you will need:
Large unblemished red bell peppers, washed, dried, broiled or roasted and peeled
Reserved roasted red pepper juices
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons capers, optional
Snipped fresh rosemary leaves, optional
Cut the peppers into wide strips or leave in quarters. Arrange in a single layer on a platter. Drizzle with enough reserved roasted red pepper juices and olive oil to moisten. Sprinkle lightly with salt and add a generous grinding of black pepper. Sprinkle capers on top and add a few rosemary leaves, if available.