Well, I finally channeled Christmas last week, and it was exhausting. I made countless batches of cookies—earl grey tea cookies, chocolate chips, Heidi’s ginger chip, linzer cookies, peanut butter ones, and almond spritzes—and a Catalan beef stew for 10. We spent Christmas at Jim’s family’s, then the next day at mine (where we didn’t cook; thanks for the lamb, Dad!), Monday at the doctor’s office (not Christmasy, I know), and didn’t stop to rest before the week began again today.
We’ve got another holiday looming—New Year’s Eve—and Jim and I will spend it alone; which is not to say it won’t be exhausting in itself, as we’ll be cooking pork belly confit for the first course and pasta with sea urchin and caviar for the main. I’m already exhausted just thinking about all those delicious calories, but it’s been a tradition of Jim’s and mine to send the waning year out with a delicious bang. A few years ago we had $30 dollar baked potatoes (with black truffle) and beef tenderloin with artichokes; last year we had foie gras for an appetizer, and a roast chicken with truffles slipped under the skin for our main course. We always add a few shots of icy, viscous vodka while the time ticks towards 12, and a few chocolate desserts for once the ball drops.
And then, once we wake in the morning, dazed and a little hungover, we start the next year. We exercise and eat healthily, diligently read the New York Review of Book and the brush up on our studies. We’re pretty serious about new year resolutions, and this year is no exception. We have a wedding coming up, you know. And I’ll be damned if I don’t look just-so in my wedding dress.
Come 2010, I’ll be making this peperonata rustica, from the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook, often. It’s healthy without going overboard (I’m not one for restricting my diet to skinless chicken breasts and wheatgrass during a diet, anyway) and packed with enough flavor to make a little go a long way.
But enough of that resolution stuff, let’s talk the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook. It’s amazing! This peperonata rustica is amazing! The soffrito that goes in it, that takes 5 glorious hours to make, is amazing! It also gave me the Catalan beef stew, which I deemed amazing enough to suit us for Christmas dinner. Egads! This cookbook is… well, you catch my drift, amazing. And if you don’t have it already, you need to. Besides being flippin’ gorgeous, this book will make you a better cook. No question about it.
Even if this peperonata rustica isn’t the first recipe you try from the cookbook (there’s a ton of good stuff in here: I’ve tried the Catalan beef stew, fried chicken, stewed prunes, and meatballs with pappardelle so far, and have not been disappointed yet), put it on your short list.
You take sweet-tart, fresh roasted red and yellow bell peppers, and smoky, sweet piquillos and stew them with some soffrito and chicken stock, and Espelette pepper if you can find it (I couldn’t, so I used a touch of pimenton de la vera, dulce and a smaller amount of cayenne—not a perfect substitute, but it worked fine.) I’m obviously a little smitten with the soffrito; it’s made with a whole lot of good olive oil and onions, slowly caramelized over a low heat, with tomatoes added after a few hours, and a bit of garlic at the end. The result is beyond words. The perfect flavoring agent for this peperonata, or for stew. I’m not going to give you the real recipe because I really, really do think you should buy this book (I can be downright bossy sometimes) but if you refuse, I’m sure the above directions will get you by.
I would buy you all a copy of the book if I could (and I’m a little displeased with Santa, since I specifically asked him to do just that) to ring in the new year. But since I can’t do that, here’s one recipe. It’s delicious as a side for fish, or as a base for fried eggs, or eaten alone over some fluffy white rice. It’s also achingly pretty, with bits of green chive and bright reds and yellows. It’s something I can make resolutions for.
from the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook [excluding side notes]
6 yellow bell peppers
6 red bell peppers
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces piquillo pepper, drained, peeled, and seeded
About ½ cup soffrito (see recipe in cookbook, or make up your own soffrito of oil, onions, tomatoes, and a touch of garlic)
1½ cups of chicken stock
¾ teaspoon piment d’Espelette
1 tablespoon minced chives
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the bell peppers lengthwise in half and remove the stems and seeds. Toss the peppers with oil to coat and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the peppers cut side down on the baking sheets, the red peppers on one, the yellow peppers on the other.
Roast the peppers until the skin is blistering, 30 to 35 minutes for the red and 35 to 40 minutes for the yellow, do not allow the edges to blacken. Transfer the peppers to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or put in an airtight container with a lid.
When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them. Tear them lengthwise into strips about ¾ inch wide. Tear the piquillos into strips in the same way.
Combine all the peppers, the soffrito, stock, and Espelette [or whatever you are substituting] in a medium saucepan over medium heat, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, to soften the peppers completely and meld the flavors.
Transfer to a bowl or platter, sprinkle with chives, and serve.