Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Piedmont Peppers

piedmont pepper

We went to the Gate, Hammersmith a few days ago. I've given up writing reviews of restaurants because it's usually a social occasion that gets me out of the house and it's difficult to reconcile my natural enjoyment of being with friends and being a good guest with my (apparently) unrelenting standards when it comes to the food and ambience of the venues. My expectations of catering establishments are probably a bit higher than they should be, in other words, I'm really quite a picky food snob. So, let it go.

However, there wouldn't be a blog post without me expressing some sort of personal opinion and so it was that when I read the menu I was surprised to see the old stalwart of Piedmont peppers nestling in amongst the starters. These are inextricably linked with Delia Smith who popularised them on one of her early cookery programmes and I'm afraid they suffer as a consequence in my mind but actually it was the sainted Elizabeth David who is credited with bringing the recipe into the canon thirty years earlier than Ms. Smith so I suppose I should rein in my sniffs of disapproval.  Even so, it still seems like an odd choice for a modern restaurant.

Reader, I chose that starter, just to see if they'd put a twist on it - the original recipe contains anchovies so it had to have been modified for a vegetarian clientele. As far as I could tell, they'd replaced the fishy umami with a paste of tomato puree and sun dried tomatoes which gave a good solid stuffing to the peppers, albeit a little one paced, but I was disappointed that the cooked pepper itself was still rather crunchy and given the lusciously soft finish of the traditional dish seemed undercooked as a result.

A niggle is as good as a shove to the discontented, so I made some at home so that Mr. Stripey could enjoy them as they should be with me. (He'd had some sort of tempura artichoke while we were out, how I envied him.)

Piedmont Peppers for vegans.

serves 2

2 large red peppers, thick walled.
4-5 medium well flavoured tomatoes
Tomato purée if needed
Olive oil
Black pepper

Slice the peppers in half lengthways to make four pepper boats and arrange in a sturdy metal baking tray with sides to catch the juice (or face cleaning your oven later!)

Slip the skin off the tomatoes and remove any tough cores at the stem end. I've wondered about using good quality tinned tomatoes during the winter when fresh ones are so insipid. If you did try that pierce the fruit and allow them to drain for a bit before using otherwise they will be too wet. As it was I had fresh tomatoes and put half a teaspoon of tomato purée in the base of each pepper half before filling with the rest of the ingredients.

Slice the tomatoes into quarters or eighths if very large and use them to stuff the pepper halves, then arrange slivers of garlic, as much as you like, between the pieces of tomato. I used capers as an alternative to the anchovies but I can't see why some shreds of good black olives would be out of place. Season with freshly ground black pepper and then put a dessert spoonful of good olive oil into each filled pepper. Add it slowly so it fills the cavity and doesn't just run off over the sides.

Bake uncovered in a hot oven, about 200C, for an hour until everything is deliciously soft, starting to caramelise and the pepper's juices are mingling with the oil.

Serve warm or at room temperature with bread, or as we did with oven chips and green vegetables.