Peperonata! (Stewed Peppers, Tomatoes, and Onions)

Five years ago, I posted this picture on Facebook of peppers I had just harvested from my backyard garden.

Within minutes of posting it, I received a message from my Sicilian friend Francesco Strazzanti, with the following message, “Peperonata!”

Francesco is a fantastic cook; when he talks, I listen. I had never heard of peperonata. When I Googled it and learned it was a stew made with sweet bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes, I realized I knew exactly what peperonata was — I just never knew it had a name.

The core ingredients are all pretty much the same, a variation of vegetables typically grown in a summer Italian kitchen garden: tomatoes, peppers, onions, zucchini, eggplant, garlic, basil, and parsley. These are MY VEGGIES!  I garden just to watch these beauties grow and then to have a quiet kitchen in which to prepare them in delicious and creative ways. The bonus is the connection I feel to my mother and grandmothers when I make their recipes.

Peperonata! 

Peperonata is the kind of dish you could make a big batch of every week and have in the fridge to use as you plan meals.

You could serve it over pasta for dinner or as a side dish alongside grilled sausages or chicken.

You could serve it over a slice of crusty bread with melted mozzarella or goat cheese for lunch.

Or, you could serve it scrambled with eggs for breakfast. This last way was one of my favorite foods to eat when I was a teenager. My grandmother in Baltimore used to make it for me all the time. She scrambled the eggs in olive oil and stirred in the peperonata at the end. Yum.

Yield: 8 cups

Ingredients:

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¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, about 3 cups cleaned and sliced
3 pounds bell pepper, about 10 medium-sized, or 10 cups cleaned and sliced.
1 level tablespoon chopped garlic, about 4 or 5 cloves
2 pounds juicy, ripe, tasty, tomatoes, or 4 cups cleaned and rough-chopped.
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or the leaves from about 8 stems
¼ cup chopped fresh basil or the leaves from about 6 stems
2 tablespoons fresh mint or the leaves of 4 long stems
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or juice from ½ lemon
¼ – ½ cup plain Greek yogurt swirled in just before serving

Mise en Place:

To prep the peppers: cut in half and scoop out the stem, seeds, and white pith. Chop into slices or chunks. I leave the skin on. Note: red sweet peppers make for a pretty sauce if you have a choice when buying the peppers.

 

To prep the tomatoes: cut in half horizontally, use your index finger to scoop out the seeds. Remove the stem and core and cut into two-inch chunks. I leave the skin on because the heirloom tomatoes I use (called Cherokee Purples) are thin-skinned.

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To prep the onions: remove the papery skin and white core at the base. Slice into slivers.

Instructions:
Warm olive oil in a 6-quart pan. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat until translucent.

Add peppers and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes, covered, on medium-low heat until soft. Stir about every 5 minutes. Do not brown peppers.

Add tomatoes, salt, and pepper, cover, and sauté for 5 minutes on medium-low, stirring occasionally. Stir in herbs. Cover, cut off heat, and let sit for about an hour to finish cooking. Stir in the honey, lemon, and yogurt. Add more salt to taste. I like to add ¼ teaspoon at a time until that moment when the salt brings out the best in all the flavors. Francesco is the one who encouraged me to add lemon, honey, mint, and yogurt. He was spot on. They boosted the depth of flavor magnificently.

P.S. It gets better every day!

How about Italian cookies for dessert?

Sesame Seed

Lemon and Ricotta

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Sometimes, you need a little color on the plate when planning a menu for a dinner party. Such was the case when my sewing group got together recently for our annual dinner party.

Fortunately, one of our friends excels at menu planning and volunteered to organize the meal and divvy up the jobs. I was tasked with making roasted tomatoes for twenty. While I have sautéed tomatoes for marinara sauce, puréed them for gazpachoand sliced them for salads, I have never cooked them as a side dish. The challenge was on.

I was a little worried about finding flavorful tomatoes in the middle of winter. I went to Whole Foods and asked an employee in the produce department which tomato she thought was the most flavorful. I loved her response: she pulled out her paring knife and said, “Let’s see.” We tried three different tomatoes, and the Romas won out.dsc_0209

After considering various ways to prepare them, I did what came naturally to me: I tossed them in olive oil, sea salt, and garlic pepper and roasted them. Clean and simple.

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Ingredients:

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30 Roma tomatoes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon McCormick’s Garlic Pepper
1½ teaspoons sea salt
7 or 8 stems Italian flat-leafed parsley or basil, stems removed
balsamic vinegar to drizzle

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425º
Line two roasting pans with parchment paper

Prep tomatoes: cut each tomato in half, lengthwise. Cut out the stem and use your index finger to remove the seeds.

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Place tomato halves inside a bowl, add the olive oil, salt, and garlic pepper. Toss well to coat evenly.

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Place each tomato half on baking sheet.

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Roast tomatoes for 1 to 1¼ hours. After 30 minutes, rotate pans in the oven. Cooking them this long will draw out their natural sweetness and flavor.

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Place tomatoes on a serving platter, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and snipped parsley or basil leaves, for garnish. Serve at room temperature.

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For a few other colorful sides, try these:
Amazingly Delicious Sautéed Carrots
Sautéed Collards (or Swiss Chard) with Cranberries and Toasted Pine Nuts
Roasted Acorn Squash with Applesauce and Cinnamon
Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts, and Cranberries

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Acorn Squash, with Applesauce and Cinnamon

When we were growing up, my mother cooked dinner every night. There was always a  protein, a vegetable, and a starch, although on Sundays, when one of my grandmothers cooked dinner, the lines between the food groups were blurred by a magnificent batch of spaghetti and meatballs. Now, I am the grandmother!

Milk was the only beverage served at meals, and it was poured from an “Orange Poppy” ceramic milk pitcher. Milk bottles on the table were a big No-No. All of her serving pieces were in this pattern.

One of us kids set the table and another cleared it. There was a rhythm to the dinner hour. We ate what Mom served us. At the time, I so envied our next-door neighbors who on Monday nights got to eat TV Dinners when The Monkees came on.
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Mom was a single parent who worked full-time and was a fabulous cook. I was her sous chef and worked by her side to get dinner on the table nightly. Helping with dinner was a point of pride; we were a team. While structured family meals have undergone some changes in the last fifty years, the way I prepare acorn squash remains the same. Mom knew how to prepare adult foods so children would eat them.
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Serves 8

Ingredients:
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4 acorn squashes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
Cinnamon sugar (1 T sugar and 1 t ground cinnamon)
cracked pepper or garlic pepper

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400º
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prepare Squash:
Cut off each end of the squash. Cut off as little as is necessary to stabilize the squash, so it stays upright.

Cut squash in half. Take a moment to admire nature’s beautiful details, and then … scoop out the seeds!
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Coat the interior and top edges with EVOO.
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Add one-third cup of applesauce to each squash half. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, followed by a little cracked pepper or garlic pepper. Place squash halves on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Roast for 45- 60 minutes, until fork-tender. Serve in a pretty serving dish.

I love to eat them cold from the fridge the next day so I always make extras.

Mom and I in the kitchen. She was tiny but mighty.

Serve with:
Cooking Dinner in an Unfocused Way, or Ode to the Rice Cooker
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Mom’s Marinated and Grilled Lamb
Mom’s Apple Pie (with a cheddar streusel topping)
Mom’s Pumpkin Pie

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Perfect Rice Every Time!

I’m a multitasker in the kitchen life. If there are more than five minutes of lag time involved in a cooking task, I’m using it to switch out the laundry or run to the mailbox. That usually is fine until I find another thing that needs doing along the way, like putting away the laundry or pulling a few weeds. Before I know it, I return to the kitchen, and the rice, farro, or other grain is stuck to the bottom of the pot. A rice cooker solves that problem. It turns off automatically when the grains are cooked. It is the multitasker’s friend, read, dream.

Enter my daughter-in-law and her mother.  A few years ago, they taught an Indian cooking class for friends in my kitchen. Every square inch of counter and stovetop space was used for prepping and sautéeing the veggies and meats. Off on the kitchen table, far from the over occupied countertops, sat these two large-capacity rice cookers, quietly and efficiently doing their thing — cooking rice. Unsupervised.

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Here’s what I learned about rice cookers that day:
Rice cookers are foolproof.
Rice cookers do not need a timer: they shut off when the rice is done.
Rice cookers can be plugged in anywhere.
Rice cookers make perfect rice.
Rice cookers come in many sizes.

I still didn’t run out and buy one. If truth be told, I was hanging on to a guilty memory from the time I helped my mother declutter her kitchen. I was ruthless. There was a rice cooker in its original box in the pantry. Mom said she never used it. I stuck it in the Goodwill pile.

After the Indian cooking class, my DIL sweetly gave me a rice cooker for a present. I slowly started using it. One day, I was espousing its benefits to my family, and my mother said something about how she used to have one, but she couldn’t remember what happened to it. She said she was going to look for hers when she got back home. I had an opportunity to fess up, but I didn’t. The things that haunt us …

Meanwhile, I love my rice cooker.

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I’ve learned I can cook all these different types of grains with it. I can even use it to cook steel cut oats in the morning. When cooking grains, I simply follow the instructions on the package and add olive oil and chicken broth or bouillion for flavoring. Sometimes, I add chopped onion and herbs. If the water runs out and the grains are too chewy, I add a little more water and continue cooking.

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How to make perfect white rice in a rice cooker
It took quite a few attempts to come up with a good recipe for perfectly chewy rice. I tested many ratios of water to rice and salt. By accident, I discovered that when I added olive oil to the pot at the onset of cooking, the rice water did not sputter out of the air vent hole and make a mess on the counter. I’m not sure why this is, but I I feel certain it’s related to the reason why, when you add a little butter to the pot when cooking jam, it keeps the boiling preserves from foaming on the surface. If there are any scientists reading this who can explain this phenomenon, please share in the comments.

Ingredients:
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1¾ water
1 chicken bouillon cube, crumbled
1 tablespoon olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, or butter
1 cup long grain white rice (I like Mahatma Rice)

Pour water into a liquid measuring cup. Crumble in a bouillon cube and stir until dissolved. Pour oil into the base of the pot. Add rice. Add water and bouillon mixture. Make sure all the rice is submerged.

Plug-in the rice cooker. The “warm” button will immediately light up.  Flip to “cook” mode and let it do its thing. It takes about twenty minutes. The cooker will automatically flip from “cook” to “warm” when the rice is done.

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How a rice cooker works:
Rice cookers don’t cook by time, but by temperature. Water boils at 212º (technically, 214º if the water is salted). As long as there is water in the pot, the temperature of the rice cannot rise above the boiling point of water. Thus, the rice will simmer at a steady temperature until all the water is absorbed. Once absorbed, the cooker continues to heat the pot, the temperature in the pot rises, the heat sensor detects a bump up in temperature and cuts off the heating element. The cooker switch automatically flips from “cook” to “warm.”

There is still heat in the pot, and that heat has to go somewhere (see Heat Transfer 101), so the rice continues to cook and soften for about five more minutes. I usually unplug it when it is done.

What I learned about the ingredients while testing recipes:

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Water: If you want crunchier rice, use less water. If you want softer rice, use more. If you add too much water, the grains of rice will split, release starch into the water, and the rice will become sticky and clumpy.

Bouillion Cubes: I generally like to add one cube of bouillon per 1½-two cups of water. I’ve found that amount of bouillon flavors the rice with just the right amount of salt. You could simply add 1 teaspoon of salt instead. Or, none.

Rice: Rice and other grains like flour, oats, corn, and barley are the mature, dormant seeds of grassesBrown rice is the whole kernel of the rice seed minus its inedible fibrous husk. Most of the nutrients in rice are found in this outer brown (also known as bran) layer.

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Alternatively, white rice, or the endosperm portion of the grain, is pure carbohydrate meant to provide the seed with energy for sprouting purposes. When white rice is milled, the brown bran layer is polished off, but with the bran go the nutrients. To be nutritionally complete again, white rice is often “enriched” with nutrients that are sprayed on. If you wash enriched white rice, you’re going to lose those nutrients. Don’t wash “enriched” white rice.

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As an FYI, I have come to love this trio of rice medleys from Trader Joe’s. Of the three, the Brown Rice Medley is probably my favorite simply because I like the pop of the Daikon Radish Seeds when you chew on them. My goddaughter, Leigh, and I were recently talking about easy, elegant meals to prepare for entertaining and this rice, served as a side dish, would definitely fit the bill. I love that in addition to being delicious, theses rice medleys all add interesting color and texture to the dinner plate.

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To prepare them in the rice cooker, I add 6 cups of water (a little less if you want the rice to be chewier), 3 chicken bouillion cubes, about 3 tablespoons of EVO, and the entire bag of rice. When the rice is finished cooking and flips to “warm” I uncover the pot and unplug the rice cooker to keep the rice from fluffing up anymore.

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Serve with:
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts
Mom’s Marinated and Grilled Lamb
Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepper

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.