Thursday, November 17, 2022

Blistered Peppers with Mozzarella and Croutons

Scrappy cooking, or cooking outside the lines, is a fun approach to putting a meal on the table. That’s the style you’ll find in I Dream of Dinner by Ali Slagle. I’ve been cooking through my review copy. The recipes are intended to give “just enough structure to get you to excellent meals, in your kitchen, your way.” They should all require no more than 45 minutes to make and ten or fewer ingredients. What I always enjoy in a cookbook is an offering of alternatives for swapping out ingredients or making little changes, and those suggestions are in abundance throughout the book. The recipes are written to walk you through the entire process of making each dish. So, rather than calling for a pre-prepped ingredient in the list, just the item itself is listed and any prep work is described in the instructions. The goal is to prevent you from seeing a short recipe and not realizing everything in it requires several minutes of attention before you can begin. I just have one little quibble with the way the ingredient lists are written: there are no quantities in the lists. You have to read the recipe to find out how much of each ingredient is needed. But, otherwise, I have been enjoying this “fast and loose way of cooking.” It could be that I have a thing for eggs lately, but I wanted to taste everything in the Eggs chapter. The Fried Egg Salad is a mix of vegetables skewing toward escabeche with lettuce to which chopped fried eggs are added. Alternative routes for this include a romaine salad with olive oil braised chickpeas or a Thai salad among others. I had to try the Crispy Potato, Egg, and Cheese Taco because that combination can do no wrong. Shredded potato was fried in butter in rounds to fit the tortillas; shredded cheese was sprinkled on top; and an egg was cooked on top of the cheese. It was simple and lovely. The Beans chapter is fun too. I have my eye on the Big Beans with Breadcrumbs wherein gigante beans are browned in oil in a hot pan before panko crumbs are added with butter and cooked until they coat the beans which are then served with dressed salad greens. The other chapters include Pasta, Grains, Vegetables, Chicken, Beef Pork and Lamb, and Sea Creatures. I made the Sticky Chicken with Pickled Vegetables, and it’s a delightfully quick and tasty take on teriyaki. Alternatives include making this with tofu or salmon and adding vegetables. I plan to do all those things. The Tomatillo Poached Cod is like a streamlined pozole. I did actually cook dried hominy rather than using canned, but it was still a very approachable dish with great flavor. And, one recipe tip that I will use repeatedly from now on is to add grated zucchini to ground chicken for burgers. The dish I want to tell you more about, though, is Blistered Peppers with Mozzarella and Croutons. 

I had lots of local, sweet peppers in various sizes to use in this dish. The peppers, some chopped and some just stemmed in my case, were cooked in olive oil with garlic, smoked paprika, and red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven in the oven until the peppers were blistered. Next, almonds were chopped and tossed with bread chunks and olive oil. The mix was seasoned with salt and pepper, and it was baked until golden. Some of the excess oil from the peppers was poured over the bread and almonds, and minced garlic and sherry vinegar were added as well. Last, fresh mozzarella was cut into pieces and layered with the peppers, chickpeas, and croutons and almonds on a serving platter. 

This dish was a delightful mix of flavors and textures. And, like all the other recipes, it came with great ideas to repurpose in others. The idea of using warm excess oil from the peppers to dress the croutons and almonds could apply in so many other dishes. And, that’s the intention here. The recipes inspire all sorts of directions for experimentation, and also happen to be delicious just as they are.

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