Blogging has many rewards. It is a nice way of keeping track of my own recipes, it is great to receive feedback from all over the world, and it is wonderful to learn so much and get so many new ideas from other bloggers. Blogging has also turned out to be a great way to meet wonderful people. Some of the highlights so far have been Conor’s visit and a surprise invitation to dinner by Teun and Albert. And I won’t even begin to mention all the great people I’ve so far only interacted with online.
Richard McGary of REMCooks is a mutual blogging buddy of Conor and myself. After Conor’s visit, Kees knows him as ‘the pouring shot guy’. Richard always has great recipes and I’ve already prepared quite a lot of them to great success. Richard and his wife the Baby Lady are very fond of bold flavors, which is clear from the high number of recipes with chile peppers on REMCooks.com. I have no qualms in calling them chileheads, because they are proud to refer to themselves that way.
I never used to eat a lot of spicy food, but over the years I’ve grown more used to it and now I am cooking pretty spicy dishes on a regular basis. Still, I tease Richard now and then when he posts yet another chile recipe. Also because he uses all kinds of chile peppers that I am not familiar with. Richard probably thought it was time both Conor and myself would get more familiar with chile peppers, because as a gift from him we both received a box from Texas in the mail that was filled with all kinds of chile peppers! The box contained enough capsaicin to eradicate a small village 😉
There were 7 kinds of dried chiles: New Mexico Sandia (mild, hot, and XX-hot), Pasilla Negro, Guajillo, Ancho, and Chipotle. Also included were three jars with goodies made by Richard himself: Pickled chipotles, Jalapeños en Escabeche and Ancho Chile Rub.
The package came with a letter that contained a challenge.
“Now I know you love to cook and try different things, so, if you are up to it, I have a challenge for you with this basket full of ingredients. You MUST use a MINIMUM of 5 of the items in the basket to prepare 1 entrée with any protein or veggie of your choosing. As an FYI, I have prepared a similar basket for Conor with a similar challenge.”
How could we do anything but take up the challenge?
I hadn’t cooked before with any of the stuff Richard sent, so to start with I familiarized myself with these new ingredients by preparing some dishes with them. The first thing I made was Ancho Chile Crusted Tuna with a Tomato Salsa with Pickled Chipotles and Zucchini with Pickled Jalapeños. This was just something I made up and it was absolutely wonderful. It was pretty spicy but not too spicy.
I also tried to prepare one of Richard’s recipes: Pork Chipotle Burgers stuffed with cheese. It was absolutely wonderful! I didn’t know what chipotles were and although I had noticed Richard describing them as having a smoky flavor, I had no idea they are actually smoked jalapeño chiles! The smokiness of the pork burgers was absolutely wonderful.
By now I had only tried three of the ten items in the package, so I decided to speed things up a little by trying four of the dried chile peppers at the same time and comparing their taste and heat. I prepared a simple recipe: chicken simmered in a tomato and pepper sauce, with the pepper sauce containing sweet bell peppers as well as hot chile peppers. I toasted the chile peppers as per Richard’s instructions and soaked them in hot chicken broth. Then I chopped them and simmered them in the tomato and bell pepper sauce with the chicken, with each chile pepper in a separate pan. This way I tried New Mexico Sandia Chile (mild), New Mexico Sandia Chile (hot), Pasilla Negro, and Guajillo. I only used half of a dried pepper for each batch as I had no idea about the heat, but only the Pasilla Negro turned out to be hot and was actually my favorite.
It was time to cook something for the challenge! I could have just cooked one of Richard’s recipes (not hard to find one that uses 5 types of chile 😉 ) but felt that the dish for the challenge needed to be something that I thought of myself. Something Italian style would be a logical choice, and so I thought I’d do a riff on Penne all’Arrabbiata. Since I liked the burger with the chipotles so much, I made it a double riff and also based the dish on Ragù alla Napoletano. Teun and Albert had just taught me how to make a foam, so I decided to include a foam as well. And so without further ado here is my answer to Richard’s Challenge: Penne all’Arrabbiata with Napoletano Meatballs and Chile Pecorino Foam. For this dish I used 7 out of the 10 items in the package, so the condition of the challenge has certainly been met 🙂
The dish worked out great, loaded with lots of flavor and just the right amount of heat. The smokiness of the chipotles (both in the sauce and in the meatballs) was overwhelmed a bit by all the other flavors, but otherwise the dish turned out just like I had imagined it would be. Are you curious what Conor did with the challenge? You can read his post here.
Over the last weeks I’ve eaten more chile peppers than ever before and I’ve really enjoyed myself. It has been great to get to know some new flavors. The chile peppers are not as hot as I feared and in fact most of them carry less heat than the dried red chile peppers that I use for Asian and Italian cooking.
I can’t thank Richard enough for the wonderful gift and inspiration! My favorite without a doubt is the pickled chipotles — I’ve already used up all that Richard sent over, so now I’ll have to make my own batch. Perhaps you noticed I didn’t touch the dried ancho chiles yet? That’s because I’m planning to prepare one of Richard’s dishes with them…
1 dried New Mexico Sandia chile (mild) *1*
1 dried New Mexico Sandia chile (h0t) *2*
1 dried Pasilla Negro chile *3*
1 dried Guajillo chile *4*
1 chipotle *5*
2 pickled chipotles *6*
500 grams (1.1 lbs) stewing beef
2 pork ribs
2 garlic cloves
120 ml (1/2 cup) red wine
2 cans (400 grams/14 oz each) peeled tomatoes
4 Tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley
100 grams (3.5 oz) freshly grated pecorino cheese
70 grams (2.5 oz) stale bread without crusts
300 grams (.66 lbs) penne rigate
flour for dusting
1 New Mexico Sandia Chile (X-hot) *7*
20 grams (2 Tbsp) freshly grated pecorino cheese
120 ml (1/2 cup) boiling water
1.25 grams lecithin powder
Cut the beef into chunks.
Sauté the onions in the remaining oil (add some more olive oil if needed) over low heat until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to catch all the tasty bits.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add salt and penne pasta and cook al dente according to package instructions.
We enjoyed a nice aglianico from around Naples with this dish. The wine needs to be full bodied but also sufficiently fruity to work well with the heat of the sauce.