FALL APPROACHES and with it, expectations. Time for nagging the produce manager. Are they in yet? No, maybe next week. Next week arrives and, at last, so do the red peppers. The first batch of a tantalizingly short season is here.
Expectation has been replaced by obsession. A quick side trip to the Bethesda Avenue Co-Op yields another dozen. The lure of the Eastern Market cannot be resisted; there they come by the bushel basket. The basement fills with preserves, the family with red pepper salads, Chinese vegetables with red peppers and scallops with two kinds of red peppers. Cool rainy Saturdays are welcomed as opportunities for roasting and peeling peppers for later consumption.
Peppers, whether green as they are sold most of the year or a fully ripened red, are usually seeded and deveined, then either sliced, chopped, julienned or roasted. To remove the core, hold the pepper with the stem end on the counter. Cut vertically through the middle of the pepper to one-half inch from the stem end. Hold half the pepper with the left hand and pull the other half to the right, twisting at the bottom to separate from the core. Pull the core from the remaining half pepper and cut the ribs out with a sharp knife.
To transform sweet red peppers into roasted peppers -- what we usually buy in jars as pimientos -- broil whole peppers or grill on a barbecue. Julia Child uses a blowtorch. When the entire pepper is blackened, place in a pot with a tight-fitting lid or in a closed paper bag for 10 minutes. The steam will loosen the skin and make peeling easier. To use for antipasto, marinate peppers with finely chopped garlic, fresh lemon juice and virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with lots of freshly ground black pepper and serve with toasted french bread rounds. Roasted peppers will keep refrigerated for about a week if covered with a thin layer of oil, or they may be frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet, then placed in plastic bags in the freezer. When ready to use the peppers, thaw in the refrigerator for two hours.
Partner sweet red peppers carefully with other foods. For example, artichokes and scallops have distinctive flavors, yet will not overpower the sweetness of the peppers. Celery root, mustard and olive oil also succeed in this role. As well as adding flavor, peppers lend bright color accent to pale chicken or veal and a variety of salads. BOK CHOY WITH RED PEPPERS AND SNOW PEAS (4 servings) 1 fresh red pepper 1/4 pound snow peas 4 water chestnuts, sliced 1 head bok choy Sauce: 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water 1 tablespoon dry sherry 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce 4 tablespoons cold water 1 teaspoon salt (optional) 1/2 teaspoon sugar 2 tablespoons peanut or corn oil
Core the red pepper, remove ribs and cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Clean snow peas and remove string. Cut the base off the bok choy, separate the leaves and wash. Chop coarsely into 1-inch chunks across the stem. Keep leaves and stems separate.
In a separate bowl, mix the sauce ingredients in the order given. Set aside. Heat the wok. Add the oil and reheat. Add a dash of salt to prevent the vegetables from sticking. Stir-fry the bok choy stems for several minutes. Add the leaves and snow peas. Stir-fry 1 minute. Add the water chestnuts and red pepper and stir-fry 30 seconds.
Stir the sauce and pour into the wok. Toss gently until slightly thickened. Serve immediately. SWEET PEPPER MAYONNAISE (Makes 2 cups) 3 tablespoons corn oil 1 egg 1 egg yolk 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar 1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 3 or more dashes hot pepper sauce 1 cup plus 5 tablespoons corn oil 2 sweet red peppers, roasted, peeled and coarsely chopped or 1/4 cup bottled roasted peppers or pimiento, drained and coarsely chopped
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine all the ingredients with the exception of the corn oil and the red peppers. Process for five seconds. With the machine running, slowly pour the oil in a thin stream through the feed tube until mayonnaise thickens. Oil may be added more quickly once the mixture begins to thicken. The mayonnaise will be very thick at this point. The juice from the peppers will thin it slightly. Add the peppers to the work bowl, and process with several on/off turns until the peppers are finely chopped and incorporated in the mayonnaise. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Refrigerate. The mayonnaise will keep for a week. Serve with whole artichokes as a first course, or as a sauce with freshly poached salmon. FRESH SCALLOPS WITH RED PEPPERS (4 servings) 1 pound fresh sea scallops Marinade: 1 small egg white 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon sugar For the wok: 1 cup peanut or corn oil 3 dried hot red peppers, seeded and chopped finely 2 teaspoons rice wine or dry sherry 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 fresh red pepper, julienned into 1 1/2-inch strips Seasoning sauce: 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch 1/4 cup cold water 3 tablespoons soy sauce 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon sesame oil 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce 1 teaspoon rice wine
Rinse scallops and pay dry. Slice scallops horizontally into 1/4-inch slices. Set aside. Combine marinade ingredients in a small bowl and add scallops. Use your hand to mix well. Refrigerate 30 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix sauce ingredients in order given.
Place a strainer over a pot near the cooking area. Heat wok. Add oil and heat to 280 degrees. Carefully add scallops to oil and stir quickly to separate them. When most of the scallops have changed color from translucent to white (after 1 minute) pour the scallops and oil into the strainer to drain. Cook scallops in two batches if the pot is too small.
Reheat wok. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil, heat to moderately hot and stir-fry the dried red peppers, wine and garlic about 1 minute until fragrant. Add fresh red peppers and stir-fry 30 seconds. Stir the seasoning sauce and add to wok. Stir-fry until slightly thickened. Add the drained scallops and toss lightly. Serve immediately over plain rice. RED PEPPER AND CELERY ROOT SALAD (4 servings) 2 fresh red peppers 2 small celery roots or white turnips 1 cup fresh peas or tiny frozen peas Dressing: 2 tablespoons tarragon wine vinegar 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste 1 tablespoon dijon mustard 1 teaspoon chervil 1/2 teaspoon tarragon 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley 6 tablespoons olive oil Freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Core red peppers and julienne into 3-inch strips. Peel celery root and julienne. Blanch for 30 seconds in boiling water if desired. Chill in ice water and pat dry. Shell peas. If using frozen peas, thaw prior to using.
In a small bowl, mix the wine vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Whisk in the mustard, chervil, tarragon and parsley. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Divide the dressing in two. Separately toss the red peppers and celery root with the dressing. Refrigerate for 4 hours. Prior to serving, drain vegetables, reserving dressing. Toss peas with dressing and remove with a slotted spoon.
Arrange the salad on individual plates or a small platter. Mound the celery root in the center, top with the peas, and surround the base with the red peppers. Top with additional fresh parsley if desired. Serve chilled.