Skimping on skinning spoils pepper paste

October 19, 1997|By Rob Kasper

THERE IS MORE THAN one way to skin bell peppers. You can dunk them in boiling water. You can roast them over a charcoal fire. You can bake them in the oven. Or you can attack them with a vegetable peeler.

All these methods of loosening the outer skin require some work. Back-sliders may be tempted to skip the peeling stage, and drop the peppers in a food processor to let the machine do all the work.

This would be easy but wrong. And like so many easy-but-wrong solutions to life's problems, I tried it. I am here to tell you that if you don't peel your peppers, the paste that you make out of them will be bitter.

That is what happened to me recently. I made the paste as part of an effort to dispose of the plethora of peppers from the garden. Last year I had two pepper plants in my plot in the community garden in Druid Hill Park. They did nothing. This year I put in four plants, and they produced bigger yields than Wall Street.

Out in the garden, the work drill became: jump down, turn around, pick a mess of peppers. It also resulted in a race between me and the rabbits -- a contest to see who could get to the peppers first. I won't say that the varmints have me riled. I'll just say the more I read a certain recipe -- for braised rabbit with peppers -- the more I am considering giving it a try. I know where I can find the main ingredients.

My war with the rabbits reached such a pitch recently that I started making sudden sweeps, arriving at the garden right before dusk, picking every pepper in sight. These garden sweeps left me with a sense of satisfaction -- it is not every day you best a burrowing mammal -- and with piles of green peppers.

Looking around for a quick way to turn these peppers into something edible -- other than chutney -- I found a recipe for a paste made of pulverized peppers. The paste could be spread on toasted garlic bread, or mixed with olive oil to serve as a sauce for pasta. All I had to do was core the peppers, soften them in a pot of boiling water, then peel them by pushing them through a food mill. Finally, I had to cook the paste on low heat in the oven for several hours.

I didn't have a food mill, so I just tossed chunks of unpeeled peppers into a food processor. I got a very pretty, very smooth green mixture that tasted terrible. The skins had given the paste a sharp, unpleasant flavor.

So I am going back to the garden to pick some more peppers and make some more paste. This time, I am going to peel the peppers. I think I'll dunk them in boiling water, holding them under the water with a spoon, until the peppers are soft. Then, after the peppers have cooled, I will peel them, and then make them into a paste. I bet the paste would taste wonderful on a grilled rabbit.

Pepper paste

Yields about 1 cup

3 pounds peppers, cored and seeded

3 cups boiling water

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

Dunk peppers in pot of boiling water, holding them under with spoon or small strainer until the peppers are soft.

Remove peppers with slotted spoon, let cool slightly and peel.

Put peppers in food processor and blend into paste. Add salt.

Pour the pepper paste into a 10-by-14-inch nonstick baking pan. Bake in preheated 150-degree oven for 5-6 hours, until concentrated and the thickness of tomato paste.

Cool and transfer into a jar. Cover with layer of extra virgin olive oil and a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.

Adapted from pepper extract recipe in "Red, White & Greens" by Faith Willinger (HarperCollins, 1996, $25).

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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