"These impressive looking peppers are deceptively easy to put together" Shelf Love
On the left Ottolenghi, on the right mine. It was a dish that ticked off two of my weekly aims - a new recipe and a vegetarian meal.
I chose it because of the serendipity of having singled out the recipe for a try a while back, the need to cook something new and/or something vegetarian before the week is out, and the fact that in my fridge's drawer were two of the very same kind of pepper and three corn cobs. I even had a green chilli. For the recipe is called Creamed corn stuffed peppers with pickled jalapeños and you can find it if you click on the title.
It comes from my new Ottolenghi book - Shelf Love - and those words at the top of the page are how this particular recipe is introduced. It's in the section The Freezer is Your Friend, because it features frozen corn kernels. Which I have to say I never have in my freezer. No the only vegetables I have in the freezer are peas and spinach, although if I ever get back to the Queen Victoria Market I will be buying fresh spinach again. The frozen spinach we get here all seems to come from Holland which is very odd. After all you can get real corn all year round here. I confess I have never looked to see if some it is imported, which it may well be I suppose. Note to self to check on this in future. Anyway on this occasion I had bought loose entire corn cobs - not the little ones in a plastic covered packet. Ok - not freshly picked from my or my local farmer friend's garden but still, relatively fresh and real.
Back to the very photogenic peppers. Looking at the two above I think I probably should have cooked mine a little longer to get the onions a bit more charred - the peppers too - but David was waiting for his dinner and they did look done - well they were - just not charred.
So what's the verdict? Apart from them looking good that is.?
Well to paraphrase David a bit - he said it was Ok, indeed a bit more than Ok but not great and not for the 'when can we have it again?' list. And I think I sort of agree with him. It was, surprisingly a little bit bland, and honestly I couldn't taste the corn very much - and normally you can taste corn. It has quite a strong flavour. I didn't do jalapeño peppers because they would be too hot for David even thought they are mild to many people. But I did have the mild cayenne peppers and there was a bit of a tang to them, but not enough really. I had actually thought of substituting sliced cornichons, and when I told David this he thought that, yes, that might be a good idea. Or lemon or lime juice perhaps.
All of which got me thinking about why was this not wow? After all Ottolenghi says:
"Our system is very thorough. First, my test kitchen team – Ixta and Noor – put a recipe through its paces, trying it on average three to four times. For things like bakes that involve more chemistry, it could be up to 10 times. Then it gets sent to Wales. If Claudine isn’t happy, we reassess. ... When she says something is “nice”, it’s not that great! When she says “wow”, “extraordinary”, or “the best I’ve ever had”, you know you’ve got a winner." Yotam Ottolenghi
The recipes are also very precise - 5g thyme sprigs - for example - none of this 'a few sprigs'. And so I tried to be very precise too, so much so that when I had cut off the corn kernels from my cob I found that they weighed slightly more than the required 125g (half of the original recipe - I was cooking for two - and so I actually took some out - very few - perhaps a tablespoon full - wrapped them in glad wrap and put them back in the fridge for another occasion. And I did the same for the mozzarella/bocconcini. Stupid, really, and I think I half realised this as I was doing it. Anyway because the ingredients were so precise I had the impression that this had been tested to the 'wow' stage. And it wasn't really wow.
Is it my fault? Did I do something wrong? How did I stray from the precise ingredients and equally precise instructions? Well, as I said I halved the ingredients, substituted a cayenne chilli for jalapeño; white wine vinegar for cider - I thought I didn't have any cider, but it was hiding; one egg - well you can't have 1 1/2 can you and besides it was a large egg; 2 onions instead of 1 but they were small - I thought I should cover the base of my pan; and I didn't weigh my thyme and coriander, but I'm guessing I had more rather than less, so it should have added more flavour rather than less.
What else did I do that strayed? Well when I had blended my stuffing of corn, cream, etc. it seemed a bit runny so I put it in the fridge to thicken a bit - which it did, so I think that was a good thing. And because I hadn't yet washed up the measuring jug in which I had measured the cream, I just used it again - remains of cream and all, when I measured out the water. I actually forgot about adding water to the dish as I put it in the oven, but remembered just in time. But that shouldn't have mattered should it? Plus as I have previously said I perhaps should have cooked it a further five minutes - I did cut that short because of time pressure.
It looked impressive when I put it in the oven though - David made me take a photo.
And it looked impressive as it was served and on the plate too:
- but then mild disappointment, after the first sigh of relief that it wasn't awful. I think David will dismiss it from his mind. Me - I think I will have another go some time. It just looks too good to discard, and it's such an interesting idea stuffing peppers with creamy corn don't you think?
"food that we'd cook at home, for our friends and families, comforting but with a slight edge, a little twist, a 'cheffy' addition." Shelf Love
Well the introduction to Shelf Love does say that these are:
"recipes that say without saying, 'I'll show you the rules, but here's how to break them.'"
Perhaps I didn't break them enough.
All of the recipes include a hint or two of how you could change them but all this one says is that you can use ordinary red peppers, and different cheeses.
I served mine with a green salad and a baguette because I thought there might be juices to mop up, but there weren't really because the water evaporated into the onions and the filling solidified because of the egg. Ottolenghi suggests serving it with a Broad bean herb salad - shown below with toum, although he doesn't mention the toum which is a very garlicky paste made with oil and lemon juice. And here is another picture of what it's supposed to look like too.
Honestly my slight disappointment is, this time I think, down to Ottolenghi. A challenge though. Can I improve upon it? Suggestions welcome. Maybe you should all have a go and come up with suggestions. It's too good an Idea to discard completely I think.