How to Cook Everything: If you've got a good fire going, roasted peppers are easy to make and fantastic when charred nicely.
If learning how to cook is easy enough for a child to do (and it is), the continuing-education portion of it lasts a lifetime. I remember the first time I roasted a pepper, 44 years ago. It was a revelation. And I remember when I thought I had it down pat, 15 years ago, around the time I wrote my first Minimalist column.
I didn’t have it mastered, of course. And the other day I was reminded just how fantastic good peppers are when roasted nicely, and just how easy they are. If, that is, you have a good fire going. Because roasted peppers are at their best when they’re charred peppers, and they’re best charred over wood, or at least real charcoal.
They’re also at their best when they’re the right peppers. (We’re talking about sweet peppers here, not chilies, which are a whole other story.) Of this I was reminded about a week ago, when I had lunch at De la Riva, a fine Madrid restaurant with traditional daily menus, the kind of place where a gentleman brings a variety of appetizers and then asks if you’d rather have meat, fish or both.
On the day I visited with some friends, among those appetizers was a plate of gorgeous long, bright-red peppers, perfectly roasted and peeled, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with oil. They looked the way they should, with a few stubborn bits of blackened skin still clinging to the flesh.
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Two days later, wandering through the markets of a small town in Greece, I came across those same kinds of peppers, in both red and green. Their name doesn’t matter much: What matters is that they’re long, tapered and fairly regular, without a lot of wrinkles and twists. And what matters is that they’re not bell peppers, which are usually not only weaker in flavor but also more difficult to peel.
I’m not a lifelong fan of green peppers, which are the unripe specimens of whatever color they’ll eventually become, but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate them as not inferior but different. I bought about a dozen of each.
The market was one of those where you claim space on the counter and load your stuff there. Unnoticed, a fellow shopper’s bag of 30 or 40 green peppers joined my pile. So when I got back to the house where I was staying, I had not 25 but something like 60 peppers. This, plus a huge grill with plenty of dry wood, gave me opportunity to practice my craft; overall, a happy accident.
I make roasted peppers many ways: with a fork over a gas flame, as I did 44 years ago (a silly method, unless maybe you are doing only one); in an oven or gas grill (efficient but imperfect); in a broiler (better); and over charcoal, which is the best way, unless you have (as I did last week) actual wood.
Nothing smells better, nothing tastes better and nothing works better than blistering, direct heat. Both nights, I roasted the peppers, and some whole eggplant, as the fire began to peak; I grilled the rest of my food as it cooled a bit. The results were, if not optimal (personally, I could have done with a few anchovies) a bit of a revelation.
Time: 1 hour or more
Yield: About 6 servings.
12 or more long peppers, red, green or both
2 or so tablespoons olive oil
Lemon juice, capers or anchovies (optional)
1. Build a hot fire. Wood is ideal, charcoal a good second. The rack shouldn’t be more than 3 to 4 inches from the fire, and you can start the peppers just as the flames begin to die down; there will be no flare-up.
2. Put the peppers on the grill without crowding too much. As they blacken, turn so they char on all or at least most surfaces. As they finish, transfer to a bowl, where you can pile them up. (There is no need to put them in a paper bag, as you may have read.)
3. Let cool. Peel and seed, using as little water as you can to rinse remaining seeds and skin from the peppers. But don’t be too compulsive: a few seeds and bits of skin are fine. Also, the closer to whole the peppers remain the more attractive they are.
4. Serve, dressed with olive oil, and salt if desired. Lemon juice won’t hurt; neither will capers or anchovies. These will keep, refrigerated, for at least a week.