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….