A few days ago, our friend Spiros, a local farmer, invited Vincenzo to harvest vegetables at his farm.
I expected Vincenzo to return home with a grocery bag full of produce. (Spiros, like many here, is extraordinarily generous.) Instead he returned with a very large crate brimming with enough vegetables to feed us for a couple of weeks or longer. Among the goodies–so carefully packed by Spiros between layers of newspaper–were potatoes, dark red tomatoes, eggplants (our local heirloom variety) and, I was thrilled to see, the long, tapered, light green peppers our neighbors cook up in a number of delicious ways.
They grill them. They fry them. They bake them and they broil them. They stuff them with cheese or with an aromatic mixture of rice, chopped vegetables, herbs and sometimes ground meat and then broil or bake them in the oven or, if you’re lucky, in an outdoor wood-fired oven, which imparts the dish with a delicious smoky flavor.
Last night we got busy making plans for each vegetable. With the eggplants, we will make papoutsakia, or “little slippers,” and melitzanasalata, or eggplant salad. The potatoes, I knew immediately, we would fry, as fried potatoes sprinkled with salt and oregano is, hands-down, Vincenzo’s favorite dish. The tomatoes we will use in fresh salads, of course, and for a couple of Italian pasta sauces. As for the peppers, it was a bit of a dilemma, albeit a delicious one, for we love the variety of methods used to cook them here. In the end, we decided to make piperies me tiri (πιπεριές με τυρί), or cheese-stuffed peppers.
A simple dish, piperies me tiri can be made in a variety of manners. After they have been stuffed, the peppers can be baked, broiled, grilled or even fried. Last night the weather was cool and so we decided to bake them in our indoor oven. Having been schooled by my mother in the practice of roasting peppers over a flame on our gas stove, I was a bit concerned that baking the peppers would not sufficiently enhance their sweet and smoky flavors. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised.
As with many of the recipes on this blog, the ingredients can be played with to suit your tastes. For the stuffing, we used feta cheese, a bit of olive oil and parsley. Some cooks use other cheeses, such as kefalotiri or touloumotiri. Others add oregano or a hot pepper finely chopped. Some add a splash of lemon juice or a pinch of lemon zest to the mixture.
In Greece, this dish is commonly served as a meze (small, savory plates of food enjoyed in the company of friends or family), but it is hearty enough to be served as a main course with a side of salad and, of course, bread to mop up the delicious juices.
10 or so long green peppers (Fresno or Anaheim peppers can be substituted. In Greece, try sweet Florina peppers, if you’re lucky enough to have access to them.)
400 grams (a generous 1.5 cups) of feta cheese
A splash of olive oil for the filling plus enough to coat the pan and drizzle over the peppers before they’re baked
A handful of chopped parsley
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F).
Remove the caps from the tops of the peppers and gently remove the seeds.
In a bowl, add the feta cheese, olive oil, parsley, salt, and pepper.
Mash and mix until combined.
Using a small spoon, stuff the cheese mixture into the peppers to within a centimeter (approximately 1/2 inch) from the top. Place the cap back on the pepper, using it as a stopper to prevent the cheese from oozing out as it bakes.
Coat a roasting pan with olive oil and place the peppers side by side in the pan. Drizzle the peppers with oil.
Bake until they have softened and browned, approximately 30-40 minutes.
Enjoy with a glass of classic retsina or your favorite spirit.
Coming soon: Adventures in wood-fired cooking: