Friday, June 27, 2008

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Charred Tomato Sauce

I've been a HUGE fan of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena since it opened a couple years ago. Owner Cindy Pawlcyn is a James Beard award-winning cookbook author and Chef and Owner of Napa Valley's famous Mustards Grill. She is also a co-creator of many renowned Bay Area restaurants. Not bad, eh?

What's great about this place is it's no fuss. Napa Valley can get a little stuffy at times so it's nice to be able to walk in to a place that consistently delivers delicious and fresh food from farms surrounding the area with service that's attentive but laid back and local.

I met my best friend Lindsay there for lunch this week and she suggested that I start with these bad boys you see here.
Once I had them, I knew I wanted to make them at home. The plus about living in California is that I have access to many more ingredients, especially ethnic ones. Spanish stuff? No problem.
This recipe is a little hi-mai (pronounced hi may) which is short for high maintenance but it's so worth it. Come on, take on the challenge.

Stuffed Piquillo Peppers with Charred Tomato Sauce
Serves 6
12 piquillo peppers

Scharred Tomato sauce
2 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
3 cloves garlic1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and thickly sliced
2 large tomatoes
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/4 pound hanger steak or skirt steak
2 tablespoons olive oil and more if needed
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup diced peeled tomato
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground toasted cumin seed
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Remove piquillo peppers from can or jar. Drain in colander and pat dry. Set aside covered in refrigerator. For the tomato sauce: Toast the dried chiles in a hot dry skillet over medium-low heat. Press with a spatula. Do not toast more than 1-2 minutes. You want the chiles to soften a little and give off a whiff of chile fragrance but not darken. Set aside. Use the same skillet to toast the garlic, onion and jalapeno until caramelized and blackened on edges. Char the tomatoes over a gas flame using a long fork or under the broiler. They should be completely blackened. Cut the tomatoes in half. In a saucepan, place the guajillo chiles, blackened tomatoes, garlic, blackened onion and jalapeno. Add water, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Cool the sauce, then pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper as needed. Set the sauce aside while you prepare the stuffing.

For the stuffing: Using a very sharp chef's knife, mince the steak. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add steak and saute until caramelized and browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add onion and garlic and lower heat a little to cook until the onion is translucent. Add the tomato, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes more so the tomato releases its juices and the steak is tender. Chill the stuffing for at least 30 minutes so it will be easier to work with.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 375F. The piquillo peppers tear easily, so handle them carefully. Hold in the crook of your hand between your thumb and forefinger, like an ice cream cone. I like to use my fingers, of other hand, to carefully place stuffing into the pepper. Use about a rounded tablespoon per pepper. Lay pepper down on flat plate and press a little. As you fill the peppers, lay side by side. When ready to serve, spread a half cup of the charred sauce in a heatproof dish and lay the filled peppers on top. Place in oven for 8-10 minutes just to heat the peppers. Return the rest of the charred tomato sauce to a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Spread a few tablespoons sauce on each plate and top with 2 stuffed piquillos. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.

Note: Piquillo peppers are sweet and rich Spanish red peppers smoked over wood fires. In the United States, they are available only in jars or cans.


No comments: