Friday, July 25, 2008

Goat Cheese Stuffed Peppers

Naturally, I couldn't spend ten days in Spain without developing an interest in Spanish cuisine. I'm not about to undertake paella anytime soon; however, so many of the little tapas that we had left such delicious memories that I've been anxious to try to replicate them at home. As part of his birthday present I therefore bought a copy of 1080 Recipes for my boyfriend last month. It's referred to as the Spanish Joy of Cooking, and it's a beautiful book, but that many recipes can be a bit overwhelming. More importantly, it doesn't include a recipe for our favorite of the various little goodies we had in Barcelona: small peppers stuffed with goat cheese.

Happily I recently came across two different tapas cookbooks for $3 apiece (thank you, Marshalls). Since each had a variation on the stuffed peppers, I decided to buy both. Last night I made my first attempt - the general consensus was that they were very yummy, although I still don't think they're quite the same as what we had in Barcelona.

The recipe calls for pimentos (in other words, red peppers cooked, seeded, and skinned) packed in oil. I immediately diverged from the recipe and bought peppadews instead, as these are closer sizewise to what we remembered from Barcelona. Unfortunately they were packed in brine rather than oil, which I think gave them a stronger pickled flavor that fights a bit with the subtler goat cheese flavor.

The recipe gives three different filling options: one tuna-based, one cottage cheese-based, and one goat cheese-based. Obviously I went for the goat cheese. To 7 ounces of soft goat cheese, you're supposed to add one clove of minced garlic, a third cup of finely chopped black olives, and one tablespoon of the oil in which the peppers are packed, plus salt and pepper to taste. Those quantities are supposed to fill about 36 peppers. Since I decided to make only 12 peppers, I cut back on each ingredient more or less accordingly. I started with approximately 2.5 ounces of goat cheese and with my garlic press added the smallest clove I had - instantly I realized this was too much garlic, so I added probably another ounce of the cheese to compensate. Because my peppers came in brine rather than oil, I just added about a teaspoon of olive oil, then about 5 or 6 pitted kalamata olives, chopped as finely as I was able. (I'm not too handy with a chef's knife.) I had left my cheese out for about a half hour to soften, which made mixing the ingredients pretty easy.

Now for filling the peppers. That little Ziploc bag trick is too good to reserve only for deviled eggs, I thought, so at this point I scooped my cheese mixture into a Ziploc, snipped off a corner, and began filling. Words cannot express my level of satisfaction with how well this worked. Holding the pepper in one hand and the bag in another, I could actually feel the pepper swelling up as the cheese made its way into each crevice of the cavity; it felt, and looked, a bit like filling a wall cavity with spray foam insulation - in a good way, of course. Not that I actually tried the filling-with-a-teaspoon method, but I cannot imagine the results would be as satisfactory.The peppers are supposed to chill in the refrigerator for two hours before serving; since I wanted them ready sooner, I stuck mine in the freezer for an initial twenty minutes or so.
So, that's round one for the stuffed peppers. These were pretty tasty, but I still think I got too much garlic in the filling and that the briney flavor of the peppers was too strong against the goat cheese. Watch this space for subsequent attempts.
Sorry for not having a real presentation-style photo - I guess I became too interested in eating them to worry about photographing them.
While I just made these as a pre-dinner plate, I think they would be wonderful for a party food. If you use the Ziploc trick they are very quick and easy to make (and next time I might even go ahead and mix my filling in the bag, as with the deviled eggs, therefore eliminating even the cleaning of the mixing bowl), and since they need to chill anyway, they could be made several hours ahead. (I'm always on the lookout for good, easy, make-ahead party foods.)

Lesson Learned: Next time try peppers in oil, rather than in brine.

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