Thursday, October 2, 2008

Nothing Like a Quebec Pepper


Fig.1. Traditional Calabrese peppers, both mild and spicy, are hung out in the sun to dry. They are best when still chewy. They are eaten raw or fried.

Caught a virus last week and the doctor’s orders were to put my feet up for a few days. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to watch The Sopranos again from the very beginning. After getting through the first season I couldn’t help but notice the frequent food references in every episode, and if there’s one food that’s mentioned more than any other, it’s peppers. Tony and his crew eat them raw, fried and pickled, and mostly in sandwiches. Among the more frequently mentioned panini are: peppers and eggs, vinegar peppers with capicollo, and of course, the classic peppers and sausage. As far back as I can remember, sausage and pepper sandwiches were a staple, the peppers were either roasted or fried.

Fig.2. A fun American Italian cookbook with recipes such as baked ziti, Sunday "gravy" (tomato sauce) and of course, peppers and eggs sandwiches

Roasting peppers is an annual tradition in most Italian households. The peppers are roasted on a barbeque until the skin chars, after which they are peeled, stored in freezer bags and frozen. Roasted peppers will easily keep in the freezer for up to a year.
Frying peppers simply requires a pan, some olive oil, and of course, fresh peppers; and they don’t get any fresher than what’s available right now. I’m not going to lie to you, frying peppers is nasty business. As soon as the pepper makes contact with the hot oil the sound and splatter will bring any seasoned cook to attention.

Fig.3. Fried peppers. Hungarian, Jingle bells and bell peppers.

The splatter of oil droplets leaping out of a hot pan is a phenomenon every Italian is familiar with: it’s known as “schizza”, which loosely translates to splatter or spray. As kids, we were always warned about the dreaded schizza upon entering the kitchen. Many good eats produced the hand scorching droplets: bacon and eggs, eggplants and pizze fritte (fried dough made with raisons, anchovies, or salted cod around the holidays) are but three dangerously delectable delicacies produced in a hot fry pan; my Mother shielded us from this assault by placing a paper napkin over a three hundred degree pan of hot oil.
If third degree burns on your hands aren’t your thing, might I suggest simply freezing the peppers? If peppers are frozen while still fresh they will retain their taste and texture for months. Just slice them into strips and store in a freezer bag removing as much air as possible. The next time you roast a chicken or rabbit just add the frozen peppers and some potatoes along with it.
Buy and preserve your peppers now; they taste and look great, they’re inexpensive and best of all, they don’t need to travel all the way from the Netherlands. Most of the peppers found in supermarkets during the off season are indeed Dutch; help reduce the carbon footprint, buy enough Quebec peppers to keep you going until harvest 2009.

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