Thursday, October 9, 2014

Confessions of a pepper hoarder

By Suzanne Taylor, Tree and Twig’s Grimsby correspondent, who really should get out more.

I do not, by and large, watch TV.

I never quite believe anyone who tells me that, as it seems what they mean is that they only watch what they’ve put on their PVR, or Netflix, but for me it’s true. I don’t hate TV, I’m not a snob who eschews such pastimes. I’m just a lady who is on her ninth year of having two jobs, and whose free time is very limited, and had to choose between having time to read and to cook, or to watch TV, and the choice was obvious. 

I suppose I could have eaten Blue Menu frozen dinners for the last five years and caught up on Breaking Bad, but then I wouldn’t have much to write about here. 

However, I haven’t entirely been a hermit in the intervening period.  I’ve seen a little Big Bang Theory, I watched a few old episodes of the X-Files when it came onto Netflix, which I used to love. 

I also watched a bit of Hoarders, although not with any sort of reality TV freak show satisfaction. I watched, sadly, because I had a friend who was a hoarder, and I was trying to understand and see if I could help. Alas, Hoarders only showed me that reality TV stinks and that the price of getting help for your psychiatric disorder that impairs your quality of life is your dignity. To hell with that. 

But, I do have a hoarding problem of my own to tell you about, dear readers. Mine is limited to one specific item, but it is a genuine case of hoarding. 

I hoard…..wait for it…..pimiento peppers. 

I am being serious. 

See, I love peppers, hot and sweet, small and large, thick walled and thin. I grew a lot of them in my garden this year. I even overwintered some in my house last year, and plan to do it again this year since many are still persistently fruiting and flowering on this rainy mid-October night as I write this. I saved seeds from each kind, and I gleefully burned my tongue time and again this summer trying hot ones. We just made another batch of homemade hot sauce which will sit until the deep winter and ferment, get cooked into the best hot sauce you ever had, tangy and rich and roasted.  

But pimiento peppers are the best part of my vegetable year, without question. I don’t think they get a lot of love on the whole; everyone associates them with olives and pimento cheese spread, and that dreadful Paula Deen’s ‘caviar of the south’. But I adore them. They are everything a watery tasteless hydroponic red bell pepper is not; deep and rich and meaty, juicy, perfect for roasting, oozing sweet oily juices when you peel away the skins, and you can even eat the bottoms. They are everything a sweet red pepper really should be; their association as spreads and stuffings obscures their peppery grandeur.  Thankfully many Niagara farmers still grow them anyhow, and I am their most loyal customer. 

Since they only appear in late September/early October for a few weeks at the farmer’s markets, I hoard them like the Hoarders show people hoard unworn jewellery, or newspapers, or expired dairy products. (Or dead cats, for that matter.)

Every week from late August onward, my husband, who tends to do our market runs, asks what I want at market, and he is instructed that he must look for pimiento peppers. As they appear in the market stalls, he brings me home a basket every week, rolling his eyes about how there is no room in the fridge, and how many peppers can I eat, and so on. And I steadfastly ignore him and pat my vegetable drawers, happy that I am awash in pimientos once again. 

(Linda Crago does grow pimientos, in case you were wondering, but I don’t think she realizes quite yet what a lunatic I am on the subject and I was trying to avoid telling her so she doesn’t feel pressured to be my pimiento dealer. I guess my secret’s out now.)

Of course there comes a time where they must be eaten, or all is for naught. I dole them out slowly, added to an omelet here, sliced and eaten raw there, a roasted one or two along the way. But now it’s mid-October, and it’s the last week for the Grimsby market next week, and there are suddenly squash everywhere, and it’s time to savour my peppers so I can remember them the rest of the year without them being crowded out by all of the attention-hogging fall vegetables. 

This recipe for sweet pepper panzanella is perfection for this time of year; to use up these red jewels, as well as your fall tomatoes, your kale (which has, if yours is anything like mine, just recovered from the caterpillar onslaught), your basil which is starting to go seedy. It’s not a typical summertime Caprese-type salad when you add these peppers; with the dark green dinosaur kale that I favour, the slightly less tangy and deeper taste of fall tomatoes, the more licoricey basil, it is the perfect recipe for that in between season, for when you aren’t ready to give up summer, but can’t ignore the fact that the dog slept under the covers all night and that it’s really too cold for sandals in the mornings. It has a depth of flavour and a true late summer/early fall hardiness when you use my beloved pimientos.  It is the perfect dish to guide you into the change of seasons, provided you’re smart like me and hoard your peppers until your fridge bursts.

It may be too late for you to find any pimientos for this year, and I’m sure as hell not giving you any of mine. I’ll have a fall version of this recipe next time I appear on Linda Crago’s blog that will be sadly pimientoless. But maybe, just maybe, if you’re smart and hit the market stalls this Thanksgiving weekend, you can find some, and resurrect summer for a little while with your CSA tomatoes and kale helping you out.  I think that’s a fine way to spend Thanksgiving, myself.

Sweet Pepper Panzanella (based on the Love and Lemons recipe)

  • 4-5 pimiento peppers.
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of smoked paprika
  • toasted stale bread, rubbed w/ olive oil & garlic
  • 1 cup sliced small tomatoes
  • 1-2 leaves of kale, torn
  • 1/2 cup little mozzarella balls
  • 1/4 cup chunky pickled onions (see below)
  • handful of torn basil
  • salt & pepper

Pickled onions:
  • 1 small red onion, sliced into thick strips
  • white wine vinegar (enough to fill the jar of onions)
  • a few pinches of cane sugar and salt
  1. For the pickled onions: (make in advance) pickle your onions by shaking all ingredients together in a jar. Chill until for at least an hour, or up to days (or weeks, really) in advance.
  2. Slice tomatoes and toss them with a splash of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper.
  3. Drizzle olive oil on your stale bread and toast (or grill) it until golden. While it's still warm, rub it with a sliced clove of garlic, then slice it into bite sized pieces.
  4. De-seed and slice your peppers into thick strips. Either put your peppers under a broiler until the skins blacken, or put them on the grill.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to touch, remove skins, and then drizzle with balsamic and a pinch of smoked paprika if you wish. 
  5. Toss all salad ingredients together so that the juices from the tomatoes and the peppers create a light dressing. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Taste, and add more salt and pepper to your liking. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes or so for the bread to soak up the juices. Serve at room temperature.

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