I've had trouble coming up with new things to cook because we don't eat out as much as we used to. Restaurants are always trying out new dishes and coming up with interesting ideas that they hope will catch on, and that means exposing their customers to new ideas that can be borrowed and adopted.
A month or two ago, I ate at Jose Andres's Jaleo in Bethesda, Maryland with the Redhead and a friend and among the tapas we enjoyed was a plate of Spanish piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms. All three of us were very polite about sharing, but we all made very sure we got a fair portion of this delicious dish.
The dish was fantastic. The sweet flesh of the peppers contrasted with the earthy mushrooms mixed with the tangy fresh goat cheese. I could have just ordered a few plates of the stuffed peppers and been happy.
When I decided to recreate the dish at home, a discovered that piquillo peppers are not easy to find in the U.S., at least not at a reasonable price or not in a jar. The piquillo pepper grows in Northern Spain and has a wonderful sweetness that ordinary full-grown bell peppers just don't have.
I wasn't wiling to spend $15 for a jar of piquillo peppers, but when I came across a clamshell pack of small sweet bell peppers for less than $3, I tossed them in the cart and grabbed some baby portobello mushrooms and some fresh goat cheese.
The end dish I came up with isn't the same as the dish from Jaleo, but it does capture the contrast of flavors nicely, and because I didn't peel the peppers, it makes for a delicious finger food for parties. The only downside is that there is a lot of chopping involved. There's no reason you couldn't make these up well ahead of time for a party and heat them up in the microwave (yes, I said the "m" word) just before serving.
Goat cheese and mushroom stuffed peppers
10-12 small "baby bell", piquillo, or paloma peppers, no bigger than a large thumb
2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
One small packet of fresh goat cheese (3-4 ounces)
6-8 baby portobello mushrooms with stems
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon dried sage
pinch of salt
grind of black pepper
Trim the tops off the peppers, and remove any seeds and membranes you can from the inside without cutting the sides of the pepper.
Heat the vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan or skillet and introduce the peppers. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let the peppers simmer for ten minutes before turning them and simmering for another ten minutes uncovered. You want the peppers to soften without completely collapsing. If you find them starting to soften too much, turn the peppers early or remove them from the stock entirely. Drain and let cool.
Trim the very ends of the stems of the mushrooms. Mince the mushrooms, stems and all into very small pieces, about the size of a pea or smaller.
In a small skillet, melt the butter and introduce the mushrooms, sage, and a pinch of salt. Sautée until the mushrooms have become tender. Because you've minced them so finely, this will happen very quickly. Set the mushrooms aside.
Place the goat cheese in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30-45 seconds until soft. Mix the mushrooms into the cheese until you have a uniform consistency.
Using a butter knife, stuff the mushroom/cheese mix into the peppers, packing it down to ensure the tips of the peppers are filled. Fill each pepper completely, but don't over-fill.
Set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Just before serving, microwave the peppers until they and the cheese inside them are warm, but not boiling hot. One minute or less should do it, depending on the number of peppers you have, whether they were refrigerated before serving, and the power of your microwave.
Serve warm as finger food or drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle herbs on small plates of peppers to be eaten with fork and knife.