01 February, 2007

peppered with flavor

Isn't this an incredibly evocative photograph of an ordinary red bell pepper? I didn't take it, so I can wax lyrical about the quality. I ended up spending quite a bit of time browsing through the photographer's website, and you should give it a try too. Plus to a non-speaker of the language, there's something very amusing about people's comments in Swedish!

Last night I was so not in the mood to cook dinner: tired for no good reason, John was out at a business dinner (don't get too excited: it was the goodbye dinner for his former boss, whose retirement was meant to give John the job that The Other Guy got which resulted in the latest installment of Serial Job Quitting). Plus after a nice snack at Patisserie Valerie with Becky and Anna, Avery decided she could not live with the current homework organiser file in her backpack, so we braved the crowds, the overwhelming perfume, and general off-putting commercialism that is Selfridges, perusing their stationery department. Not my favorite way to spend the afternoon. So I had visions of taking Avery to some local pizza joint and relaxing. But bless her heart, she said, "Could you make that spinach and red pepper pasta I like so much?" and when I hesitated she wailed, "You should be glad I love your cooking! And it's a child, asking for spinach!" I relented. And it is so extremely delicious, plus perfectly good for you too. A bit of labor in chopping, but think of it as your moment of zen.

Farfalle with Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper
(serves four)

1 pound farfalle (I prefer De Cecco)
3 tbsps olive oil
3 large red bell peppers
1/2 pound baby spinach leaves, washed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 handful flat parsley, chopped
1 1/2 tbsps Italian seasoning
2 soup-size cans peeled plum tomatoes, drained and quartered
sprinkling chilli flakes
1 tsp salt
grated pecorino or parmesan cheese

Put water on to boil for pasta and preheat your oven to broil. Line a cookie sheet with aluminium foil (for easy cleanup) and cut your pepper down the sides in three slices, taking care to discard seeds. Press the slices as flat as they can get, skin side up, onto the cookie sheet and place under broiler. While you keep an eye on them as they roast, start chopping the garlic and onion and throw them in a skillet or wok, with the olive oil; toss in the Italian seasoning. It can all wait in the cold skillet while you get the spinach and parsley chopped. The cut you want with your spinach is called a "chiffonade," which in French means literally "made into a rag," and you get it by piling the leaves (stems removed) on top of each other and slicing them into ribbons. This is an extremely satisfying job for your basic OCD person, or a slightly bipolar person who is having a down day. I speak as an authority on both these diagnoses.

When the peppers' skins are nicely wrinkled and slightly blackened, take them off the sheet with tongs and place either in a brown paper bag, or on a paper towel that is large enough to wrap around them. Make the little package as airtight as you can. After a minute or so, unwrap and you should be able to peel the skins off the peppers and discard them. Then slice the peppers into bite-size pieces and put aside with the tomatoes. I know I am, if not alone, unusual in disliking commercially-roasted red peppers. It's because they are preserved generally in oil or vinegar, and the oil makes them slimy to my mind, and I don't do slimy. At all. And the vinegar adds quite an unnecessary bite to them. I suppose I could rinse them. But why? It's easy to roast peppers, and if I had a gas flame I could hold them in tongs and turn them around until done, also a nice zen task. But if you like slimy, hats off to you and this dish is a bit easier.

Once your peppers and spinach and parsley are chopped, put your pasta in the boiling water and you've got 11 minutes to make your sauce. Turn on the heat under the onion and garlic and saute until soft, then add the tomatoes and give it a stir. Add the salt and chillis and check your pasta. When it is just nearly tender, throw your spinach and parsley into the sauce and stir through. Pour your pasta through a colander in the sink and then, without giving it the shake you normally would, throw it in the skillet with the sauce. This leaves a little bit of cooking water to moisten the sauce. Serve with the grated cheese, lots of it. Last night we analysed why the dish needs so much cheese, and came to the conclusion that it is made up of very simple flavors, and no fat to speak of, so the cheese adds depth.

I cannot explain it, but my child adores this dish. She spears each little bowtie and then scoops all the vegetable bits off the plate with relish. We both agree that it isn't quite as pretty as you would think, when you picture red and green, and if anyone has suggestions on how it could be made prettier, I'd welcome them.

It's one of those days in London where the sky is hanging low and heavy, and the weather people say dreary things like, "The day will progress with occasional rainshowers, patches of grey, and perhaps the odd bright spell, but with increasing cloud throughout the afternoon." A typical London day, in fact, which could use a good dose of comedy class to wake it up...

1 comment:

ilva said...

Sounds so tasty! and simple!

ps. sorry for being a bore but it's Danish, not Swedish...