*crunchy* *sweet* *creamy* *salty* all at once ::::
Just before bedtime, I recently flipped through the book The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, not realizing what I was getting myself into. Readers can search complimentary flavor combinations alphabetically, with cute blurbs of commentary and opinions from successful chefs. As much as I love details, swimming in lists of flavor affinities was somewhat overwhelming. The undertow of lychees and scallops, honeydew and cardamom, and the never-ending possibilities with saffron finally took my breath away and I had to slam the book shut, turn off the light, and curl up under the covers. Too many combinations!
After having a decent night’s sleep, as good as a mother can get with a four-year-old and a one-year-old, I regrouped and decided to gently peruse this tome of flavor permutations. And then realized I really didn’t need it. I already had my recipe spelled out, compliments my friend Lisa and her ability to make simple things in the kitchen always look and taste splendid. Years ago, she, her husband, Eat and I, and another couple were getting together for a semi-regular social afternoon. What normally ended up was the guys would play video games for a few hours and the girls, well, we ate and talked. Talking — way more fun that getting motion sickness from playing Red Faction. Eating — even better. Lisa served us bell pepper strips with a layer of goat cheese, topped with a few olive halves. I loved the combination. Even the eyes-glazed-over guys, on the cusp of motion sickness, ate them and asked for more. And no vomiting ensued, though I do remember a little whining.
That was too long ago. Now faced with bowls of long, leggy peppers from the neighbors, I had to recreate Lisa’s success with this recipe for goat cheese stuffed red peppers. Except I made the bites bigger, stuffed them full, and topped them with olive tapenade-like spread. The generous neighbor’s garden from whence these peppers came is still speckled with their reds, morphed from bright greens. They are insidious to some, but to me, ah! I could eat them for every meal, so sweet, crunchy, that initial snap when I first take a bite. These peppers, more willowy and less fleshy than their voluptuous sisters the bell peppers, are still just as sweet and perfect for stuffing with creamy cheeses. I chose a mild goat cheese, just a hint of goatiness, stuffed inside the length of the de-seeded peppers, and topped them with the salty Kalamata olive and basil mixture. The combination of sweet peppers, creamy goat cheese, and salty Kalamata olives in each bite gives the mouth so many complimentary flavors. The saltiness of the olives brings out the sweetness of the peppers; the cheese’s creaminess is contrasted with the sweet crunch of the peppers. I may just creep back to The Flavor Bible eating these bites. Maybe I won’t need too much direction on lychees and scallops. Or something.
- 6-8 sweet red Italian peppers (the number of peppers will depend on how large they are)*
- 8 ounces soft goat cheese, possibly more if you use larger peppers (I used a mild tasting one - check out Belle Chevre)
- ¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted
- a handful of fresh basil leaves (save a few to chiffonade and garnish)
- twist of freshly ground black pepper
- To remove seeds from peppers: Cut off stem and calyx, then run knife down the body of the pepper lengthwise on one side, but not cut the pepper in half. Open the pepper up gently so that you can use your fingers to remove the seeds and any thick ribs.
- Whir olives, basil, and freshly ground black pepper in food processor for about a minute, just until it is slightly chunky and looks like the size of small gravel.
- Using your fingers (a spoon isn't all that helpful), stuff goat cheese into the peppers, without filling them too tightly (so you have room for the olive mixture). Top with olive-basil mixture (go easy on this -- Kalamatas are salty!). Sprinkle with chiffonaded basil to garnish. Serves 6-8 as an appetizer, possible 2 or 3 as a meal. *Burp* (Actually, I ate 4 and was still hungry. But my peppers were really, really, tiny. Not really.)