December 10, 2007

I finally made my own cheese-stuffed pickled Italian cherry peppers. I have wanted to make them for years, especially since a jar of store-bought ones can cost about $8 or more--and can be devoured by 2 or 3 people in one sitting. Preparing the peppers is time-consuming and (for some people) tedious. But if you don’t mind using a tiny sharp knife to cut off the tops and scrape out all of the seeds from, say, 30 or more hot cherry peppers, then this might appeal to you. I enjoy these specialized tasks and don’t care that they may take a few hours. Standing in my kitchen glancing out the window, it’s actually a pleasant way to spend a chilly fall Sunday.

I meticulously cleaned each little pepper, keeping each tiny top, and simmered them in salted vinegar for about 5 minutes, until slightly cooked but still very firm. Then I stuffed each one with a cube of Manchego cheese, replaced their tops and layered them in a wide jar. I added enough extra virgin olive oil to the salted vinegar I'd simmered them in so that this liquid would cover the peppers. I added basil leaves, sliced garlic and thyme sprigs to the mixture and poured it over the little stuffies. The jar went into the refrigerator to marinate for about 2 months.

I knew what would happen next, but I let it slide. The oil separated from the vinegar so that half the peppers sat in the vinegar while the other half sat in the oil. Every time I opened my fridge I would look at my beautiful, but flawed peppers and tell myself to do something about it, but I couldn’t bear to start in with them again. Yesterday, after 2 monthhs, I finally took the peppers out of the fridge and tasted a pepper from each pole. The vinegar-soaked peppers were delicious, a little hot and not as acidic as I had feared. The oiled peppers were good, too, but needed some tartness. The Manchego cheese was a mistake, not firm or sharp enough. The cheese is actually tasty, but next time I will use a strong, aged Pecorino. I lifted the oily peppers from the top layer and the vinegar ones from the bottom, placed each type in it’s own shallow dish and covered them with what they had not been marinating in. Next time, I’ll just go with the vinegar and put a very thin layer of olive oil on top.  
 

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