Making it Yours

29th January, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in Method

A couple nights ago, I had the sort of daydream experience that often accompanies the wondering over what I’m going to cook tonight. Thanks to often hectic schedules, as often as not, menus around here are not planned in advance, but are rather more improvised affairs based on what inspires me in the pantry, the cupboards, the drawers, the cooler. Unless the kitchen is empty, there’s always something that can be brought together into a tasty meal. In this case, it was a pot of what I sometimes call Minute MInestrone, for the ease by which it comes together. (I’ll try to write something down and post it to the recipe pages.) It’s a great, quick soup, and the family loves it.

But, I needed to run out for a couple of items, the most important being a loaf of crusty bread and some fresh parsley. While I was at the store, I spied a bin of beautiful orange Habaneros beckoning. When the supermarket is bold enough to put Habaneros out, I buy them. I want the produce managers to know that at least one person in town appreciates their stretching beyond the conventional Jalapeños and Pasillas. I filled a bag with the little fireballs, grabbed a bunch of parsley, some cilantro, some lovely red chard, a loaf of bread, and went to check out.

Once the soup was on, I pondered the Habaneros. I decided to preserve them in my favorite way, boiled in salted vinegar, and jarred sott’olio in some nice olive oil. It’s a pretty simple process: Two cups of vinegar, two tablespoons of kosher salt, brought to a boil. Chilies are stemmed and slit, and boiled, covered, for ten minutes. They are then drained and put in heated jars with olive oil in a boiling water bath. As they cool, the chilies absorb the oil, and become wonderful, delicious little treats for the adventurous. Years ago, a friend gave me a jar of Calabrian cherry peppers done this way, and I’ve been in love with them ever since. I can’t imagine being without them.

Back to the daydreaming. My wandering mind led me to thinking about Gremolata, which has nothing at all to do with Habaneros, or minstrone, for that matter.

The traditional Gremolata is a simple chopped herb condiment of flat-leaf parsley, garlic, lemon zest, and sometimes capers. It’s the typical garnish for the classic Milanese Ossobuco, but also makes a wonderful accompaniment for baked fish, and Gordon Ramsay sprinkles it over beef fillets. It’s a wonderful and simple thing to add to the repertoire, and, it doesn’t have to be made in the traditional way. The important elements – green herb, citrus, garlic – can be played with in new ways to create something that is yours. That’s what this is about.

I had these Habaneros, and I had limes, and I had cilantro. And, of course, I had garlic. Time for something a little different, something with a little zing.

The zest of two limes was prepared, the cilantro finely, but delicately chopped (don’t bruise it), a couple cloves of garlic and a fresh Habanero, seeds and membrane removed, were minced with a little salt, and everything was mixed together with a little lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil. The aroma was intoxicating.

There was some leftover pork loin in the cooler, so I sliced it thin, spread the “Gremolata” over the slices, and topped it with a little grated Asiago, which I chose for its sharpness, and its smoother than Parmesan texture. And because I had it.

The result was wonderful, a delightfully incendiary and aromatic amuse bouche. The Gremolata was exquisitely spicy, while the fat in the cheese helped to tame it just enough. Like the quick pizza recipe that appeared here a couple articles back, this is one of those little things that can dazzle if done with a little care. Though simple, there’s an elegance to it that makes it seem like more than it is. Try it!

If the Habanero is too hot for you, substitute a milder chili. If you don’t like cilantro, use chives, or arugula, or endive, or parsley. Play with it.

Make it yours.


3 Responses

  1. Matty Says:

    I really like this article and have been trying to play with things for awhile now to make them mine. I actually find myself being reserved, thinking it might not taste as good if I don’t follow the recipe.
    I’m still working on when to use olive oil or canola oil or corn oil or… When cooking? The thing about it is, I love it and know I will never master it. Maybe that’s why I love it?

    Do you use a 3 dollar bottle of olive oil when jarring hab’s or a 30 dollar bottle. Please dont say more expensive than that, my son plays ice hockey. LOL

  2. Matty Says:

    I’ve been growing peppers for years, t’day I jarred them using the above method. I used Terra Medi olive oil, about 15 bucks. I’ll let you know how they taste on Thanksgiving.

  3. G.L. Pease Says:

    Matty, I use good olive oil, but not necessarily the best. The oil takes on a lot of flavour, so a really fine, fruity oil will be overpowered by the chiles.

    Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to taste them (and, do keep them in the fridge). I want to hear what you think about them.