One of the HUGE challenges of cooking from a farm share is maybe not what people suppose. (I’m a member of the Javernick Farms community-supported agriculture program, if you’re a new reader.) Granted, it’s hard to plan a week’s menu until you pick up your surprise grab bag. Yes, sometimes you receive items that you have no familiarity with and no idea how to prepare. However, something that I have come to expect only with time is frustration with the inability to choose the AMOUNT of produce we receive. Last week I showed you some lovely bell peppers, three of them. Yes, I could do a stir fry. (Sweet and Spicy Tofu?) Fajitas came to mind. Roasting the peppers for a pasta or salad, or perhaps to freeze? Not so much with green bells. Brainstorm: Why can’t I stuff them?
Conundrum: It’s too much work to prepare the tiny amount of filling needed for only three small peppers. Most recipes call for at least 4 peppers, and are assuming those peppers are much bigger than these farm-grown suckers.
Answer: Stuffed peppers sound good, so farm-provided amount be damned. I’m making Stuffed Peppers.
I went out and bought two of your more typical, recognizable red bell peppers. When you can’t go 100 percent local, so what? Make a workaround, do what you can and get on with cooking. Kind of like life, you know?
Plus, this little workaround turned out to be a great experiment, because we would get to sample the difference between the red, store-bought and the variegated, farm peppers using the same recipe, side by side.
Parsley, rosemary, onion (farm), egg and breadcrumbs.
Pepper filling can really be based around any meat — ground beef, diced shrimp, sausage — or can be vegetarian, though I’ve yet to find one of the latter that’s satisfied me. I had some spicy chicken sausage from one of Sunflower Market’s sales in my freezer. It turned out to be a great choice. Instead of rice, I choose to add orzo as the filling’s grain, because I thought the moisture of the orzo would create a more tender result. That and I had orzo. So there.
The size difference of the peppers was a minor issue, because the farm peppers are so much smaller and thinner-skinned. In order to let them cook evenly, the red peppers were halved but the farm peppers were cooked whole and lidded. Each therefore contained about the same amount of filling.
So what was the result?
Bottom line: Both were tasty, and all of them were eaten happily. Also, there were likely minor differences in moisture content, because the red peppers’ filling baked more uncovered. Given that the pan itself was covered in foil, that’s a minor quibble.
There were significant differences, however. The thick, water-rich skins of the red bell pepper — while just as “done” as the other — was much less satisfying. They were more of a container for the filling’s flavor rather than a major taste component of the dish. The farm peppers, on the other hand, packed a huge roasted-pepper punch, added another level of flavor to the spicy filling and were by far more tender.
Now I’m not knocking store-bought bell peppers. I use them all the time and will continue to do so, especially through the winter. Still, reinforcing to myself yet again the difference in flavor when you use fresh, quality ingredients makes me wistful, because I only have one more week of farm produce left this year. It’s likely the last time I’ll see something like this in my sink for more than six months.
Don’t worry, I’ll only mope about the loss for, oh, a few weeks. Bear with me.