Peperonata rustica.

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.

peppers
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.

Peppers for roasting

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.

Peppers, steaming
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.

Peperonata rustica

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.

Peperonata Rustica

Peperonata Rustica

from the Ad Hoc at Home Cookbook [excluding side notes]

serves 6

6 yellow bell peppers
6 red bell peppers
Canola oil
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.

Old-fashioned meatloaf.

I still have a peck’s worth of peaches on my counter.  The temperature shot up today and we’ve got the air conditioner rumbling on low.  I sun-tanned this morning.  And ate an ice-cream for lunch.

But despite all that, I’m officially in fall mode.  There’s no going back after you’ve had a few mid-September rains and some cool weather, and the thought of butternut squash soup and apple pies and long, slow braises all enter your head.  I may even be swimming in the bay next weekend if this hot weather keeps up, but I’ll be doing so in fall mode; smores will be required afterward.

To enter fall-mode properly, I made meatloaf.  Not a fancy one, like this French loaf I’ve been eyeing, or one with un-meatloafy ingredients, chiles or what-have-you.  No, I made an old-fashioned meatloaf, with good ol’ Heinz ketchup, store-bought breadcrumbs, and locally smoked bacon.  Because you see, when I say old-fashioned, I mean it.  There was a butcher shop involved.  And ground beef made from the cattle that graze out back.  The vegetables were from the local farmer markets, the eggs from our friends Carla and Harry; only the ketchup and breadcrumbs were, well, nationally produced (is that what we call things that aren’t local?).

Obviously not everyone can buy all local ingredients to make a meatloaf, but getting good meat (preferably from a butcher) will certainly make your meatloaf taste better.  A few things to look for:  you want meat that is not ground to bits but looks like thick, loopy strings of meat.  You want to see bits of white fat throughout.  If possible, try to buy it from a butcher (you can try to find a local butcher here) so you see the meat in the butcher’s case instead of having to buy it pre-wrapped.  The color should either be purple or bright red.  If it’s bright red outside but gray inside, that means that it’s not as fresh as can be, but okay in a pinch.  If it looks gray and dull all over, don’t buy it—it’s about to spoil. If you can’t find good ground meat, buy chuck and ask the butcher to grind it up for you, or bring it home to do yourself.

When it comes to topping, I’m a line-of-ketchup-down-the-middle type of gal, but we had some perfectly smoked bacon and I guarantee that if you do too, it’s impossible not to use it.  I didn’t miss the ketchup at all and I think the bacon kept everything extra juicy.  And we had bacon on the side, a serious plus.

On the side went fingerling potatoes, turnips, and carrots, braised in chicken stock, browned butter, and a pinch of cinnamon.  And boy, oh boy, it declared fall.  Root vegetables will do that.  Cinnamon, too.

If you’d like to celebrate the beginning of fall with this meatloaf, I really hope you’ll make the veggies alongside.  The carrots speak to the subtle tomato sweetness in the meatloaf.  The turnips are both sweet and starchy.  And potatoes and meatloaf are eternal partners; one cannot exist without the other.  And I’m beginning to believe that fall cannot exist without meatloaf.


Old-fashioned Meatloaf

adapted from Gourmet

2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup ketchup plus additional as an accompaniment if desired
2 pounds ground chuck
scant 1 cup store-bought bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

4-6 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large heavy skillet cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes. Cook vegetables, covered, stirring occasionally, until carrot it tender, about 5 minutes more. Stir in salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/3 cup of ketchup and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

In a large bowl combine well vegetables, meats, bread crumbs, eggs, and parsley. In a shallow baking pan form mixture into 1 10-by 5-inch oval loaf and lay bacon slices over the top.

Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.

Printable Recipe

Braised Carrots, Turnips, and Potatoes with Cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 pounds potatoes, washed and halved
chicken stock
salt, pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound baby turnips, peeled and halved
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins

In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and begins to brown.  Add potatoes and saute for one minute.  Add chicken stock to reach halfway up the potatoes.  Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cinnamon.  Bring to a boil and cover.  Cook for 5 minutes, then add the turnips and carrots.

Cook, covered, for another 15-20 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook until the liquid boils down and the vegetables caramelize and brown, stirring gently throughout, so that most pieces brown without breaking apart.  Serve with a sprinkling of chives.

Printable Recipe