Sunday, August 28, 2011

Peppers. Eggplant. Peppers. Calzone!

Future calzone. No Papa Whozits here!

Courses 1, 2 and 3

Look at those peppers, right from the garden!

Pimientos de padrón

Aubergines du jardin!


Calzone, ready to eat!
Our eggplant was ready! So were the more interesting peppers. Our eggplant hung on the plant, months in the making, finally ready to be cut from the bush and devoured after some culinary transmogrification from pasty, greenish pith to a succulent luscious melt-in-your mouth wonder. OK, it's not the biggest eggplant ever grown, but it's ours. It grew from a violet flower, week by week, despite cool nights and hordes of whiteflies. It was everything I expected from a vegetable anticipated for weeks then slowly braised in water, Vermouth, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and oregano : a tender, succulent, melt in your mouth, wish for more extravagance. The other ingredients stepped in to play supporting roles to the eggplant's main note, adding layers of flavor and complexity like a jazz band laying down overlapping rhythms.

The eggplant wasn't the starter, though. Another plate needed to titillate the audience while the aubergine was being prepped backstage. That role went to the padrón peppers. These peppers can be blazingly, painfully hot. Or not. We were spared the burn this year, perhaps due to the cooler than normal weather - although drinking wine with the peppers set off a tip-of-the-tongue fireball that only ignited in the presence of wine.

Padron peppers are fast. Just a quick sauté and they're ready to plate. Heat some olive oil, throw in the peppers, add finely chopped garlic, dried oregano from the garden and a splash of dry vermouth. Let it simmer and reduce a bit, adjust the salt and serve. I added a bit of butter at the end for a nice finish.

Then for the prime attraction: a calzone bursting with goat cheese, pecorino romano, parmesan, fresh basil, and the star attraction, some red sweet Italian peppers plucked from the bush at their prime. Toss the dough, lay it out, put down a layer of fresh goat cheese, pecorino Romano, a bit of Parmesan, the sautéed peppers, some fresh basil. Throw in a few pine nuts, pour the pan sauce redolent of garlic and the essence of fresh summer peppers over the mixture, fold the dough over the top, seal and put it on a pizza stone in a 550° oven for 10-12 minutes. Find that the oil leaked out and smoke is pouring from the oven. Turn off the oven and open all the windows before the smoke alarm goes off. When the smoke has cleared somewhat, add fresh basil over the top and serve.

Another nice summer dinner al fresco, accompanied with some lightly chilled low tannin red wine. By the time we went back in the house, all the smoke had cleared without a trace.

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