There’s nothing new about stuffing fresh, soft goat cheese into vegetables and serving them as room-temperature drink snacks. But the particular mixture I recently put together to fill tiny sweet peppers had a lot going for it.
First, the peppers. A favorite farmers market vendor, Stokes Farm, was selling little baskets of peppers in mixed colors: My favorite, red, predominated, but there were also greens and purples and yellows. Pretty. Although they were little and fairly thin-walled, Jackie felt, rightly, that it would be a good idea to partially char them on a rack set over the gas range and — again, partially — to peel them before proceeding.
First, roasted peppers have a particularly savory allure: Even exposed to a mere gas flame, they smell and taste of the outdoors. Second, these tiny peppers, briefly singed, became more supple (and easier to handle) and more flavorful. But giving them an all-over incineration would have left them with no structural integrity, so I left part of the skin on each.
The filling was novel in only one respect, and that was a last-minute idea. According to the original plan, for a 4-inch log of fresh goat cheese, I minced a couple tablespoons of mixed herbs (use what you like) and nearly pureed a half clove of garlic. I grated the zest of half a biggish lemon. I worked these things into the cheese, along with salt, quite a bit of black pepper and nearly 2 tablespoons of delicious olive oil. I tasted it. It was fine. It was as fine as every other mash of goat cheese and herbs — you really can’t go too far wrong. But fine wasn’t good enough for our dinner guest, Barbara.
I was dealing with peppers here, and they made me think of southern Europe. (Yes, I know they’re native to the Americas, but indulge me.) And southern Europe made me think of olives, of which there were many in the refrigerator. So I pitted 10 or so, including big, buttery green cerignolas and little, intense blackish nicoises; there were others there, too. I minced them fine, patted them dry with a paper towel so they wouldn’t dilute the cheese too much and whipped them into the mixture. Now it tasted special.
Having rubbed some of the skin off the peppers, I cut off their tops and removed their seeds and some of their ribs. Although this went against the grain, I did it under running water. They would probably have been marginally tastier left unrinsed, but they were full of seeds that didn’t respond satisfactorily to being scraped out with the back end of a teaspoon. I then dried them well with paper toweling and left them on a plate in the fridge to dry further.
A few minutes before Barbara arrived, I spooned the goat cheese filling into a disposable pastry bag and filled the peppers. I could have drizzled each with olive oil, but they would not have been quite so finger-friendly; flavor-wise they certainly didn’t need it.
The success of this snack had a lot to do with the excellent — even exciting — flavor of the peppers, for which the grower merits all the credit. That said, the addition of olives to the goat cheese filling did a lot to stand up to that flavor. It’s certainly something I’ll do again, even once pepper season is nothing but a memory: The mixture can be made any time of year and would be great smeared on anything crisp.