Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Piquillo peppers,a tale of leftovers and innovation


Last spring while combing the seed packet racks of the local garden centre  I stumbled upon piquillo peppers.I adore the smoky taste of piquillo peppers. My eyes lit up at the thought of growing my own piquillos.It would be a dream come true if it worked. I would roast them myself and conserve them in olive oil. I was already imagining serving my favourite festive Christmas starter  of tiny piquillos stuffed with tuna and mashed potato.Well, I have to confess, my piquillo dreams were dashed. Oh, I picked my peck of piquillo peppers, all right.Beautiful, small scarlet cornets with tips like little curved beaks (piquillo means beak). I learnt very quickly that the skins of fresh piquillos are like leather. Whether green or red, raw or cooked, the skins are too tough to chew. Which explains why the only way you ever find these peppers is roasted and skinned,and conserved in jars or tins.It obviously needs the artesan Navarran secret touch to do it and this I do not have.Not to be defeated by my virgin pepper harvest I picked up a few jars for the Christmas cupboard.They are always good to have in as a standby,either served hot or cold and give an extra bit of smoky flavour to a pizza topping salad or romesco sauce.
Stuffed peppers come in all shapes and sizes and piquillos are perfect for stuffing.
This  is a classic and delicious way to use up leftover rice. Of course, these stuffed peppers are so tasty you'll find yourself cooking rice just for the sake of stuffing them.
The spicy smokiness of the Piquillos is a fantastic foil for the creaminess of the risotto.

It is the marmalade making season, so another great way to use piquillo peppers is to make a marmalade.Although this does not have any Seville oranges in the recipe the lemon zest and juice gives it the citrus hit that makes it a great accompaniment to any cuts of meat,either hot or cold.

Piquillo pepper marmalade
Makes 3-4 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
8 piquillo peppers, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a pan at medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and browned, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Add the piquillo peppers, lemon zest, lemon juice and rosemary and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Add a little water if the pan gets too dry. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig. Stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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