Sweet Peppers Sautéed with Chopped Meat: Easy farm-style late summer supper

Gardens in Athens are full right now with late summer produce, and days are still warm and lazy, and our movement is still restricted by Covid. Hunkered down and cooking a lot is one of the activities available.

Our son-in-law, Jason, gave us a bunch of sweet long peppers, both red and green, plus sweet potatoes from his garden. I was not inclined to long or fancy cooking at home. I do plenty of that at the restaurant.

The peppers, cored, sliced and fried with a little onion, garlic, chopped meat (pork in this case, but lamb would be my preference if it were available) and simple seasoning sautéed up into a very bright and satisfying dish served with the roasted sweet potatoes plus some sliced fresh local tomatoes. No exotic seasonings, much as I love them, seemed appropriate to this farmhouse super. It was a bit like what my mother made decades ago when I was a kid.

The recipe will serve 4-6, depending on the amount of starchy side dish. Roasted sweet potatoes worked well, but so should baked potatoes, or a rice dish or a noodle dish – or quinoa?

6 large long sweet peppers, half green and half red (or 2 each red and green bell peppers)
1/2 small onion
1 large clove garlic
1 pound ground pork or lamb, not too fatty
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar

De-stem and remove cores and seeds from peppers. Cut into thin (1/8-inch) strips and cut to no longer than 1-inch long. Dice onion. Mince garlic.

Combine vegetables with ground meat in a frying pan and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pan, until meat changes color. Add pepper, salt and lemon juice or vinegar. Stir and fry for several more minutes. Taste and add a little salt, if needed, to taste.

If desired, spoon meat mixture off with a slotted spoon so as to leave excess grease behind. The dish can be served now or refrigerated and reheated for serving later.

Serve hot with roasted sweet potato or potato (quickest cooked in the microwave), or a rice dish or noodles. Accompany with a fresh salad for a summertime supper treat.


Lentil Soup with Vegetables, a hearty meatless treat

A satisfying dish, originally from the Middle East, lentil soup is made from one of the earliest cultivated plants in the world. Such a dish shows up in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and allowed Jacob to wrest away the patrimony of his father, Isaac and his grandfather, Abraham, from his hungry older brother Esau. The recipe here is less auspicious, but very tasty nonetheless.

The recipe serves six with leftovers.

1 pound dry tan or green lentils
1 large bay leaf
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1/4 of a red bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced (or 1/4 cup canned crushed tomato)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 (2-inch) sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dry oregano)
3/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar for serving
A little minced parsley for serving, optional

Pick over and rinse lentils. In an uncovered pot bring them to a boil in water above the level of the lentils, then immediately drain (this eliminates the “muddy” flavor of American lentils and does not appreciably reduce the protein value of the soup).

Add water to cover the lentils by about 3 inches. Bring them back to a boil. Skim off any foam. Add bay leaf and simmer until lentils are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely dice onion, carrots, celery, and bell pepper if used, and mince garlic. Separately dice the tomatoes if using fresh, and set aside. Fry all except the tomato gently in olive oil until onion becomes limp and translucent. Then stir in the diced or crushed tomato and fry for one more minute. Add fried vegetables to the simmering lentils, along with the rosemary or oregano, cinnamon, pepper, and cayenne. Stir from time to time until lentils are very tender and start to break up (10-20 minutes), skimming off any foam that collects. Add a little water if necessary to keep mixture from becoming thick. Add salt, then more as necessary. Remove from heat. Check salt again 5-10 minutes after finishing cooking.

The soup is best if made ahead and stored before serving. To serve: reheat, taste and add salt if needed. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice or vinegar. When serving, drizzle the soup with some olive oil and if desired sprinkle on a little minced parsley.


Fresh Fig Tart, Celebrating Local Figs

It’s been a remarkable season for figs. With no late frost to destroy the early buds, and enough rain to keep the trees from self-pruning, we – and the birds and even squirrels – have enjoyed many succulent fruits from the “Brown Turkey” and the even more fig-flavored “Celeste” fig trees planted near the restaurant and in our yard.

Not having a family recipe for fig tart, we turned to the recipe for the wonderful rhubarb tart my wife Christina makes from the unapologetically rich desert book, Rosie’s All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed Baking Book, by Judy Rosenberg. “Rosie” originally began baking professionally in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA, and probably kept the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cardiology Department prosperous.

Figs are sweet and mildly flavored, unlike the assertive rhubarb, which I love and grew for years from plants my father started in my hometown up north. So Christina marinated the cut figs, harvested today, in lemon juice then cut back significantly on the sugar mixed into them.

Here’s the recipe for an 8-inch square or 9-inch tart, enough to feed six to eight a fantastic, rich seasonal dessert. (And while we haven’t tested it, this method should work also for the moist dried apricots that come from Turkey, and possibly even pitted dates.)

The Base (a shortbread crust):
1 cup flour
5 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 8 pieces
1 egg white for glazing (use the yolk in the topping)

3 cups halved fresh figs
Juice of one large lemon
1 whole egg plus the reserved yolk from glazing the base
3/8 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan or a 9-inch pie pan.

Process the flour and confectioner’s sugar several seconds. Add butter and process until dough comes together, 20 to 30 seconds. (Or do all this in a bowl with a pastry knife.) Pat dough into the greased pan. Glaze the crust with egg white by pouring the white on the dough and tipping pan from side to side so the white coats the surface. Pour off the remainder of the egg white.

Bake the base until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool base completely (refrigerate to speed this up).

Prepare the topping. Mix the figs with lemon juice. In a bowl mix together the egg, egg yolk, sugar, flour and salt. Add the figs with their lemon juice.

Spread the fig mixture over the cooled, baked base. Bake the tart until set and slightly golden, about 50 minutes.

Cool completely before cutting into squares or wedges.

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