Aaaaaaaaaaaaand he’s back. So after my 6-month absence, you’re probably all sick of eating Farfalle con zucchine and Pasta e ceci, though I would of course hope that your nutritional needs do not rely entirely on the contents of this blog.
Anyway, last time I checked in we were in the middle of winter and most of the dishes reflected that fact. As I write, however, (9.00 am) it’s a roaring 30° outside (and something similar inside, too) and the forecast for lunchtime tells me it will be 35°. I’m beginning to understand why Jamie recommends “the naked chef” (some of you might have to google that one). Nonetheless, I will be slaving away over the cooker today, as every day, and I’ve got a nice little summery treat for you today which requires as little time as possible in front of the cooker: Pasta with Peppers and Parma ham.
Bell or Sweet Peppers (or capsicum to Aussies), be they the more traditional red, green or yellow or even the increasingly popular orange, purple, white and brown – I kid you not – are a fantastic summer vegetable (yes yes, I know that botanically speaking they’re fruits). They are incredibly versatile and always provide a special touch to any dish, either as one of the principal ingredients or just something of a sideshow. They’re also full of vitamin C and other useful thing like anti-oxidants. Nowadays, of course, the bloody things are available year-round thanks to globalization. But I would urge you to buy as local as possible. Now clearly the sun levels required to ripen peppers are generally higher than anything seen in northern climes like Britain and Ireland, put you will find peppers grown there. For flavour, I would recommend peppers from southern Europe (Spain/Italy) and avoid anything which comes from another continent. It will have been picked before it was ripe and thus lacks the flavours that only develop in the final stages of ripening on the plant. And by the way, a ripe red pepper can be told by the fact that it is a very deep shade of red. This is the stage where it has most flavour.
There is constant debate over whether or not it’s best to use peppers with or without the tough skin. Many Italians will loudly proclaim “Oh, I can’t digest them at all”, as if it were something to be proud of. Be all that as it may, there is something to be said for skinning the bastards (the peppers, that is, not the Italians) because the process involves imparting a very particular flavour/aroma, which is not something to be sniffed at. Well, actually it is something to be sniffed, but not sniffed at, if you get my drift. So the recipe below includes instructions on how to skin a pepper. You may like to follow it or you may not – it’s up to you. The recipe works fine either way. And if you can’t hold your peppers skins, that’s your business.
Another important ingredient in this recipe is prosciutto. I’ll be writing a separate blog entry on prosciutto, as it’s a little like wine – it’s a world of its own. Suffice it to say here, that for the purposes of this recipe, you can use whatever type of prosciutto you like. As it’s mixed up with some other strong flavours, it’s probably best not to use one of those awfully expensive ones, like culatello or cinta senese. And you can of course use non-Italian dry-cured hams, like the Spanish jamón serrano or the French jambon de Bayonne, if you happen to have any lying around the place, that is.
Another ingredient is grana padano, a parmigiano reggiano-like hard cheese from the Po valley area south of Milan. You can happily substitute it with parmigiano reggiano if you prefer, though the grana is preferable as the rest of the dish is very rich in flavour and the grana is not quite as strong or complex in flavour as the parmigiano reggiano.
Now it’s getting quite hot here in front of the computer (in fact the computer itself is heating up a little too much for my tastes…) so I’ll leave you now with the instructions for my fun, summery Pasta with Peppers and Prosciutto – PPP (the kids will like that), instructions vich must be opeyed at oll timess.
- 200g conchiglie (pipe rigate/lumachine will do)
- 1 ripe red pepper
- 50-60g prosciutto
- 3-4 ripe tomatoes (and I mean ripe – i.e. dark red – but still firm to the squeeze)
- Grana padana in flakes (or grated if that’s all you have)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
First of all, having shooed the kids out of the kitchen (and preferably tied them to a post in the garden) set your pasta water to boil and when the time is right, chuck in the pasta and cook (remember to stir it from time to time!!). When it’s done, drain it, stick it in a large bowl, add a tbsp of the oil and stir it all around, do the hokey-cokey then forget about it for a while.
Next, skin your peppers. Basically to do this you have to grill/roast them until the skin starts to come away from the flesh (I find it helps to anthropomorphize the peppers and image they are someone you don’t like very much at the moment). If you have a grill section on your cooker, lay the peppers on the rack and grill them, turning regularly (the peppers, not you). If not and if you have gas rings instead of electric (so much better they are, too) then simply turn on one ring and hold the pepper, by the remnant of the stalk) over the flame until the process is complete. This is boring, so you might like to take out your Proust to pass the time, but do throw an eye on the roasting pepper from time to time.
When they’re ready, allow them to cool for a bit and then get to work stripping off the skin. Imagining the pepper crying in agony will help. Alternativly, there is another method which is much kinder on your fingers – put the pepper in a sheet of newspaper and gently roll it up and down your kitchen worktop. The skin should stick to the newspaper and your fingers will remain the same temperature as the rest of your body.
If you want to do the non-skinned peppers variety of the dish, slice your peppers into narrow strips (watch your bloody fingers! I cut the tip off one of mine last week), add a little oil to the pan and a bit of garlic if you fancy it, then cook on a reasonably high heat, stirring continuously until the peppers begin to wilt and even start to burn ever so slightly.
Back to the dish. Cut your skinned peppers into fine strips. Then cut your prosciutto into fine strips. Finely dice your tomatoes.
Next, bung the peppers, ham, tomatoes and grana padano in on top of the pasta. Add a hearty grind of black pepper and another tbsp of oil and mix it all up. If it needs salt, add some, though it probably won’t. Let it all rest for 5 minutes or so and then begin the triumphal march to the table where your family will be overawed by your culinary prowess. And quite rightly too.
As for a little something to accompany this, I think the strong flavours here call for a red, rather than a white. My personal recommendation would be a nice Monica di Sardegna.