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Stuffed Peppers Rioja Style

July 28, 2015 - Radio Kitchen - Stuffed Peppers Rioja Style

It always happens:  I go on a trip and I try a wonderful dish and I want to recreate it at home.  In this case I was in Spain, in a lovely restaurant in Salamanca where they served us a dish of red peppers stuffed with shredded beef, smothered in a tangy pepper and tomato sauce.  The menu translated the name of the dish as Stuffed Peppers Rioja Style.

First, the pepper itself.  The Spaniards prefer a lovely little pepper called the Piquillo, which is triangular in shape, with a smooth surface.  Keep your eyes peeled for them at the market, or you can look for them in cans and jars in the international section of a good supermarket.  But it's best to work with fresh product.  If you can't find piquillos, use a big fat banana pepper or and plump Anaheim.

Ideally, we want to get the skin off these peppers.  The most efficient way is to bake them on a cookie sheet until they are blistered all over.  Take the hot peppers out and put them in a paper bag (you can try plastic, but let them cool down just a little so they don't melt the plastic).  The hot peppers will literally steam themselves and make the flesh very easy to peel off under running water.

For the beef, let's get a half pound of brisket or flank steak, something with a strong grain.  Braise it in a nice liquid of broth and vinegar for about four hours.  Toward the end  of the braising, toss a chopped whole onion into the pot.  When it is finished, it will pull apart easily, giving you shredded beef.  Drain the pot off and work the cooked onions into the mixture and season with salt, pepper, cumin, and cayenne pepper.

Prepare each peeled pepper by slicing off the top and scooping out the seeds, handling it gently.  Plan on two per person.  Stuff the peppers carefully with the shredded beef.  Set them aside.

To make the red pepper and tomato sauce, known as Romesco sauce, you'll need just a few simple ingredients.  Start with 4 large red bell peppers, halved and seeded and one large ripe tomato.    Place the peppers skin side up on a cookie sheet, with the tomato and a medium yellow onion peeled and sliced up. 

Bake for about 15 minutes in a hot oven, turning the tomato and onions once.  Transfer the peppers and tomato to a paper bag (sound familiar?) and after about 15 minutes you can peel them easily.

Working with a food processor, place the peppers, tomato, onion slices and some minced garlic in the processor, along with a little olive oil and red wine vinegar to moisten the mixture.  Process until it is a smooth purée. 

Add a quarter cup toasted almonds, and a slice of stale bread, cut into cubes.  Process the whole thing, adding more olive oil and vinegar if needed, and season with salt and black pepper.

To cook, place the stuffed peppers in a baking dish, and cover with the Romesco sauce.  Bake for 25 minutes in a 350° oven.  Serve the peppers covered with the sauce.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.