While on vacation in North Carolina with my dad's extended family last month, I was reminded that often times some sort of spicy pepper condiment or homemade giardiniera showed up on the table at grandma's house in Ohio when she brought out a big bowl of pasta and sauce. As a kid, I can recall my dad slathering some of the pepper and oil mixture on his noodles to give it a kick of heat (he would offer to let me try a little and, of course, it annihilated my 9-year old taste buds that were more accustomed to Count Chocula and Wonder Bread). My younger siblings and I would also marvel at (and be a little freaked out by) strange, wrinkled chili peppers drying on a string in the root cellar of the same house, a practice more associated with an earlier generation of Italian immigrants (the peppers apparently came from the backyard garden, which was to us another odd relic of the Old Country; that is, the notion that people would actually grow and eat their own food instead of buying it at the Jewel). I now suspect that the peppers we saw (and that were subsequently turned into the condiment on the dinner table) were banana peppers, a variety with very mild heat, just enough to get your attention. Anyway, getting back to the beach - my Aunts Mary and Monica cooked up a turkey breast one day to feed the sunbathing masses in the family for lunch and served it with large pita wraps and a side of chopped banana peppers in oil. I found these peppers to be simply amazing with the turkey (adding a solid dose of both savory and spice) and spent the rest of the week adding them to whatever dishes I could, whether it was fish, pasta, or other meats. My aunts were kind enough to share the recipe with me so I could duplicate it at home, which I recently did when a bag of banana peppers fortuitously arrived on my doorstep via the weekly farmbox. Here it is (courtesy of Aunt Monica):
7 hungarian hot peppers or banana peppers sliced into rings
(remove ribs and seeds to cut down on excess heat if you want)
3 or 4 garlic cloves (minced)
1/2 to 1 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. oregano
1/2 c. neutral oil (like corn or canola)
Toss sliced peppers, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and oil in a large bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste. Put into a sealed plastic bowl or Ziploc and keep in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
In addition to peppers, summer also means frequent shipments of corn (which looked and tasted pretty darn good in spite of the drought conditions that our local farmers have been enduring). Rather than just roasting or boiling it, I tried out this simple recipe for chilled corn soup that appeared in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal on August 6. Other than the fact that I used dried nutmeg instead of fresh, slivered almonds instead of toasted walnuts, and light whipping cream in lieu of heavy cream, the end product turned out well, a refreshingly cool side dish to accompany a heartier entree (like turkey divan). Mrs. Hackknife and I were both fans of the soup, with the progeny preferring their corn kernels to be unadulterated instead of pureed with onions and cream (silly kids)...