Saturday, August 29, 2009

What a Cold and a Rainy Day

Hurricane Dan is making its way up the East coast and we've been feeling the effects of it since last night. It's cold, wet and miserable outside.

Luckily, I don't have to be anywhere today, so I'm not going anywhere. Instead, I'm spending most of the day the Kitchen.

In between rainstorms this morning, I headed out into the garden and picked, and picked and picked. I came back in with mounds of bell peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and fresh herbs. I should also say that I had mounds of bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and fresh herbs from the garden in my refrigerator already.

So, I did what any other well-bred Italian girl would do, I cooked to preserve this bounty for future use. Now my grandparents used to can their excess produce, putting up jars of tomatoes, vinegar peppers, etc. I have to admit that I'm not that ambitious. Canning is a lot of work.

Instead, I rely on making things that will keep well in the refrigerator and freezer. A little extra work today, means that much less time in the kitchen over the next couple of months.

Have I mentioned that bell peppers have been the star of this year's garden? I bought a six pack of yellow bell peppers at the garden center, and the plants have been continuously laden with fruit since the middle of July. At some point I should make stuffed peppers for dinner, but that's another post.

This morning I picked two colanders full of yellow bell peppers, so my first kitchen task was to roast some of them. I lined a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and heated up the broiler. I place the peppers on the cookie sheet and put them under the broiler. I let the broiler char the peppers, turning them as they charred so that they were evenly blackened on all sides, then I put the blackened peppers in a paper bag, sealed it and let them steam in the bag for a couple of hours. Then I peeled and scraped off the blackened skins, cut out the seeds and rinsed under cold water. The next step was to dry the peppers on a paper towel and slice into thin strips.

At this point you have two options. You can make a dressing of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and minced garlic and pour it over the pepper. Let marinate in the refrigerator for a couple of days. The peppers will keep this way in the refrigerator for up to a week. Bring to room temperature prior to serving and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil or parsley.

Alternatively, after you've dried the peppers and sliced into strips, layer the peppers in a shallow plastic container, seal and freeze. The peppers will keep in the freezer for two months. When you want to use them, thaw in the refrigerator than marinate in the dressing.

I serve these peppers as an appetizer as part of an antipasto platter. Alternatively, you can serve them on thin slices of Italian bread.

Now I should warn you that it takes quite a while to roast the peppers, so you might want to have another task to complete in the kitchen while you babysit the peppers under the broiler.

While my peppers were roasting I cut up vegetables to make caponata. One of these days I'll actually write up a recipe for this, but essentially, you go out into the garden and pick whatever eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers you have (although I cautiously add the hot peppers usually limiting it to one or two). You chop them all up into a large baking dish and add chopped red onion, minced garlic, salt, pepper, red wine or balsamic vinegar, olive oil, pitted olives and capers. You mix everything up and then bake at 325 degrees until everything is cooked down and all the liquid is evaporated. Let cool down to room temperature.

At this point the caponata will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. Alternatively, you can keep it in the freezer for up to one month. You can either sprinkle it with chopped fresh parsley or basil and serve it as an appetizer as part of an antipasto platter or on sliced bread. You can also toss it with pasta for a vegetarian dinner, again adding chopped fresh parsley or basil.

Being the busy bee that I am I also made banana muffins for my son who's allergic to both diary and wheat, and a bottle of lemon vinaigrette dressing (recipe here:

I also got a jump on dinner and made a tomato salad. When you make a tomato salad you want to use the freshest tomatoes from the garden and farmers market or else it's not worth the effort. Don't bother making it with supermarket tomatoes or tomatoes that have been in the refrigerator (it kills the taste). When you use really good tomatoes, no vinegar is needed, but if you make it and discover it is a bit bland tasting you can add a little vinegar to pick up the taste. Chopped fresh hot pepper gives the salad a little kick, but you can leave it out if its not to your taste.

Fresh Tomato Salad

4 medium sized tomatoes, cored
and chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 small red hot pepper, veined, seeded and minced (optional)
2 tablespoons
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons red wine or balsamic vinegar

Mix the tomatoes, onion, garlic, hot pepper, and olive oil in a salad bowl and set aside at room temperature for at
least two hours. Prior to serving add basil, salt, pepper and vinegar (if needed).

Well that was it for the morning. I'm going to take a break from the kitchen and hit yoga mat for a short practice then the treadmill for a long walk.

But I'll be back in kitchen this afternoon. I think I'll make a batch of pesto (which freezes beautifully). It may seem like a lot of work today, but it means I have I have to spend that much less time in the kitchen later on.


  1. I also roast peppers, under broiler in foil. I just wrap them up in the freezer just like that, peel and slice them later. Also put sauteed shiitakes, and bacon in freezer (I know bacon is not healthy, but I really enjoy ONE slice at a time in my egg/spinach/shiitake/cheese on toast). Also pasta sauce, salad dressing, anything that stores in fridge or freezer so I don't have to make every time.

  2. A little bit of bacon goes a long way in flavoring a whole dish as well. I can get away with not having meat in a dish if I just sautee a little bacon in the pan at the start. It infuses the whole dish with that "meat" flavor.

    Sometimes I think that Bacon has just been demonized too much. No, you shouldn't eat a pound of bacon at a sitting, but you're probably better off eating pasta carbonara then a huge Porterhouse.

  3. What divine sounding recipes! Glad I'm a vegetarian - I have all those things in my fridge and shall have a go at the tapenata.