Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tuna Stuffed Cherry Peppers in Olive Oil

Although most believe these to be of Sicilian origin, they actually hail from Rome. The first peppers stuffed with tuna however were cooked. The preservation in oil and vinegar came after, as is always the case with cucina povera, by necessity.
Whenever I'm in Italy, I always buy a large jar of these stuffed peppers. They are much less expensive in Italy than they are here in Montreal. I have seen them on occasion at Milano's and the Inter-Marche in R.D.P. A small jar containing only 12 stuffed peppers can run you upwards of $15.00. (compared to 20 euro for a 4 liters jar of peppers in an outdoor Italian Market, the vendor knocked off 2 euro after I showed off my bargaining skills)
Making these stuffed peppers is easy, inexpensive, and worth it. I make them in the fall when the peppers are in season. Last fall I bought two small bushels of round cherry peppers at $6.00 a bushel.(there are approximately 130 to 140 peppers per bushel) Here's what you need.

This recipe is for one small bushel of peppers (app 130 to 140 peppers)
-one small bushel of cherry peppers-130 to 140 peppers
- 3 cups of white vinegar
- 5 anchovies (in oil)
- 10 cans of tuna in olive oil. ( buy them when they're on special, they won't go bad)
- 1/2 cup of chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup of capers (in brine)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon pepper
- 1/3 cup of olive oil
-Cut the tops off the peppers and scoop out and discard the seeds. (It's the seeds that contain the most heat. Removing them makes for a milder but better tasting pepper as the power full spice no longer masks the savory part of the pepper or overpowers the tuna.)
-Fill a large stockpot halfway with water and the 3 cups of white vinegar, bring to a strong boil.
-boil the peppers in batches of 20. Boil the peppers for about 5 to 7 minutes (the peppers are ready when pliable but still firm and the tip of a pointy knife slides in easily. Do not cook for too long or you'll get mushy peppers)
-scoop out the peppers with a slotted spoon and place on a kitchen towel cut side down to dry. This step is important, the peppers need to be completely dry. You know what they say: oil and water don't mix. I leave the peppers to dry for at least 30 minutes after the last batch comes out of the water. Just enough time to prepare the tuna.
-empty the tuna, oil and all, in a food processor, add the anchovies, parsley, capers, salt, and pepper and begin by pulsing the food processor making sure all of the ingredients are being processed. Once everything is incorporated, put the food processor on a low setting (#2) and begin to add the 1/3 cup of olive oil in a thin steady stream.
-put the tuna puree in a piping bag-I use a large ziplock bag or a clean 1 litre milk bag. Start filling the peppers with the tuna. The tuna should come flush with the rim of the pepper.
-begin to place the peppers in the mason jars tuna side up. (I use the 500ml masons, I usually fit 3 layers of 3 to 4 peppers, depending on the size of the peppers.) Fill the jar, but not all the way to the top.
-once the mason is full, fill with olive oil. (I use regular olive oil here, when there are no peppers left in a jar I use the remaining oil when making seafood sauce, especially pasta with clams, cooking fish, and in salads.) Make sure the olive oil completely covers the peppers. Tap the jar gently on the table to remove any air pockets. Before sealing the jars make sure the peppers are completely covered with oil as this will ensure no air will come in contact with the peppers. I like to wait a couple of hours before sealing, as some of the peppers absorb some of the surrounding oil.
Note: Some people vacuum seal the jars by placing them in boiling water. This is not necessary as long as the peppers are submerged in oil. The heat of the water can cook the peppers and tuna thereby altering the taste. I keep my jars in my cold room, even during the summer months and never have any problems. Once I open a jar I keep it in the fridge. They begin to loose some flavour after about 6 to 7 months, but they don't usually last that long.