Roasted Bell Pepper Obsession

Sometimes I cook a dish not to feed or for a subtle balance of flavors, but out of single-minded, monistic, shameless, worshipful obsession. It works like this: I didn’t need four adjectives to describe this kind of obsession, especially not both of the first two. But to have more of one thing, I need a variety of sameness. How do I create more roasted bell pepper? By adding other things, flavors spinning around a center always just to the side of roasted bell pepper. The center is almost the sauce, everything bound together in cream. The other things are just drawn out aspects of the original: bacon smokey like them, smoked paprika essentially the same as them, but dried and powdered. Then there are those forgotten things: onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil. What metaphor to turn to (the search for which is itself a good metaphor for what it is to organize a dish around a single ingredient)? Melody, harmony, and rhythm?

1 pound tiny yellow, orange, and red bell peppers 1/4 pound bacon ends 1 smallish onion 4 cloves garlic 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup heavy cream 2 teaspoons smoked paprika a pinch of black pepper salt to taste

Chop onion and garlic finely. In a large saucepan on medium-low sautee onion and garlic in olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Stir every few minutes. Heat a large cast-iron skillet to medium heat. Cut tops off of bell peppers, slice in half, and de-seed. Drop bacon ends into skillet, then bell pepper halves. Stir bell peppers when bottom sides blacken a bit. When bacon ends are a little charred, and majority of bell peppers are somewhere blackened, transfer into large saucepan with onion and garlic. Mix together and add smoked paprika and black pepper. Add heavy cream. Stir every few minutes while the sauce thickens. It should take maybe fifteen minutes to thicken. When it’s the right consistency to stick to pasta, add salt to taste.

13 June 2011

Why I Make Pancakes

While I am not yet eating eggs with a comb out of a shoe, there is dog shit on the porch, mouse shit on the counter, a pile of week-old dishes soaking in putrid water in the sink behind which festers a crust of black mold, and grain moths hatching from and having their way with god knows what forgotten stash of dry goods. There’s no use denying it, I live in a house full of slobby men, and I am one of them. I flee from the mess I can’t stand.

The sight of the disgusting, somewhat toxic kitchen adds an unhealthy layer to my morning grumbling: I am loathe to cook anything, and for the first hour manage only to put the tea kettle on. On rare exuberant mornings I might wash some of the dishes while the water comes to a boil. Most of the time, though, I just pace around bemoaning the unendurable injustice of having to prepare and eat breakfast. This morning I stooped to a new low by making quesadillas for breakfast. They tasted largely of rubber and heartburn, but there wasn’t anything else around I could imagine being able to stomach.

After sitting in denial of my bodily needs in front of the computer with a cup of tea, reading new emails or perusing Google Reader for new amusements, most mornings I end up making pancakes. It is difficult to explain why I do this. I, and perhaps you, wouldn’t think that mixing together pancake batter from scratch is the solution for someone who wants non-nasty breakfast with minimal effort. Why not, say, cereal? It is the result of a collection of interconnected, deeply entrenched kitchen habits. I never think to buy cereal. I often buy yogurt, thinking that I’ll eat that in the morning, and I do, but it’s never enough to just eat yogurt. What else do we keep in the kitchen that’s palatable for breakfast? Well, there are eggs. Sometimes, there is bread, and when there is I make eggs on toast. But somehow, even though it is basically the same ingredients, fried eggs and buttered toast are more nauseating than pancakes. Also there is oatmeal, in my mind the least vomitable substance despite looking a bit like vomit, but I made the mistake of buying steel-cut oats. They are delicious, but take about half an hour to cook properly. I don’t get the normal, rolled variety because why buy those when I have the kind I will never use? Basically, I cook pancakes to not think about what to make for breakfast. They are the status quo.

And when the kitchen is disgusting, it is still somehow possible to scrape off whatever grime is on the cast iron pan and while it heats get out the pyrex measuring cup, crack an egg in, add milk, oil, flour, baking powder, and salt, mix it with a fork, and wait until the pan is hot. It’s a ritual that can happen amid squalor.

The result is a very starchy, tiring food. Eat a couple of pancakes and you may just want to go back to bed.

Having written this, maybe I should invest in some muesli.

4 June 2011