While not exactly a Proustian moment, it started with a seed. I was in the midst of watering spindly seedlings planted from last fall’s thick-walled red peppers – one a squat dumpling and the other an elongated bullhorn – when I craved roasted peppers of any variety. I can hardly wait the 10-12 weeks until these diminutive plants line the garden, much less the months until they yield delicious fruit. Peppers piled high at the farmers market, brought home by the peck, were the stuff of waning summer, crisp days like now at the opposite end of the year. I saved the seeds, but it remains to be seen whether they propagate purely or, because peppers cross-pollinate, they become something entirely else. We experienced a crop of Franken-squash last season.
My craving gained hope when I rescued a couple of hearty organic red peppers from the “soup bin” at our local health food store. I first thought to stuff them with rice enveloped by a spicy sauce of tomato and ground lamb. I made the sauce and was about to parboil the peppers when I realized that they would just get waterlogged. That was the breakthrough. Instead, I roasted the halved peppers, cut side down, in a 400-degree oven until the edges were charred and the sidewalls collapsed, cooked too long for stuffing peppers but perfect for lasagna. Or my alternative moussaka.
With a base of peppers, an intermediate layer of spicy meat sauce, all I needed was a blanket of custard. For an 8×8-inch baking dish, I used ½ cup of ricotta cheese, ½ cup of milk and two lightly beaten eggs gently seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg, a few red pepper flakes and salt. Baked in a 350-degree oven, the light and lovely red pepper moussaka was ready in 30 minutes and rested for ten before being devoured on the spot. This is a dish my mother would call “more-ish,” meaning that one spoonful left you craving more. Now if I just could get that garden started….
Categories: Peppers, Vegetable gratin
Looks amazing! Do you have a recipe for the meat sauce? I would love to make this.
For an 8×8 pan, I use about 3/4 lb ground meat (lamb or beef); a little vegetable oil; 1 small onion diced; 1/2 red or green pepper, diced; 1 pint canned tomatoes, chopped, and the juice (about a 15 oz can); and a big pinch each of ground cinnamon, allspice, (sometimes cumin), oregano (fresher dried), salt and red pepper. Sauté the ground meat over medium heat in a little oil, cooking until browned, Drain it to get rid of the fat and set aside. In the same pan (wipe it out if there are burnt pieces) over medium heat, sauté the onion and pepper in a little more oil until the onion is translucent. Add the spices and herbs and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes and turn up the heat, cooking it for a few minutes until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the browned meat, lower the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes until thick. Adjust the seasonings. You can make this and the peppers ahead and assemble the dish right before you cook it. Great for weeknights. Good luck! Karen