Tapena wines from Spain

Tapas bar and Spanish wineVeal-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers
Pimiento de Piquillo Rellenos de Carn

Stuffed piquillo peppers are enjoyed all over Spain, but nowhere are they more lovingly prepared than in the Basque Country, Navarra, and La Rioja. In these regions, the classic version usually involves a stuffing of seafood or meat that's been fluffed up with béchamel sauce. The filled peppers are fried briefly after being coated in a simple egg batter, then finished in a creamy sauce in the oven.

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For the peppers:
• 4 tablespoons light olive oil, plus more for frying the peppers
• 1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
• 2 medium-size garlic cloves, minced
• 12 ounces ground veal
• 1 medium-size tomato, cut in half and grated on a box grater, skin discarded
• Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the peppers
• 2/3 cup whole milk
• 16 to 18 whole piquillo peppers (from a can or jar), drained
• 2 large eggs, beaten

For the sauce:
• 2 tablespoons light olive oil
• 1/2 medium-size white onion, chopped
• 3 medium-size garlic cloves, minced
• 3 piquillo peppers (from a can or jar), chopped
• 1 large tomato, cut in half and grated on a box grater, skin discarded
• 2 teaspoons sweet (not smoked) paprika
• 1 pinch of hot paprika or cayenne
• 2/3 cup dry white wine
• 1/3 cup chicken stock or broth or water, or more if needed
• 3 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream
• 1 teaspoon best-quality red wine vinegar, or more to taste
• 1 small pinch of sugar
• Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
• Finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley or chives, for garnish

Directions:
1. Make the peppers: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until completely softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add the veal, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, mashing and breaking the meat up with a fork until the veal is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and cook, stirring, until the tomato is thickened and the pan juices are reduced, 5 to 7 minutes. Season the veal mixture with salt and black pepper to taste and set aside.

2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the 2 tablespoons flour and stir for about 30 seconds to blend. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the béchamel sauce thickens, 3 to 5 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste, then stir it into the veal mixture until thoroughly combined. Set the filling aside until cool enough to handle.

3. Stuff the piquillo peppers with the veal mixture; they should be quite full, but don't let the filling leak out from the ends of the peppers. Arrange the stuffed peppers on a plate, cover them loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the filling becomes firm, at least 2 hours or up to 24.

4. Spread flour on a large plate, place the eggs in a shallow bowl and line a baking sheet with paper towels. Pour olive oil to a depth of 1/2 inch in a large skillet and heat it over medium-high heat until a little beaten egg dropped in it sizzles on contact. Roll a few stuffed peppers in the flour, shaking off the excess, then dip them in the egg, again shaking off the excess. Add the battered peppers to the hot oil and cook until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried peppers to the paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining stuffed peppers, adjusting the heat so that the oil doesn't burn. The peppers can be prepared a day ahead up to this point and refrigerated, covered.

5. Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped piquillo peppers and the tomato and cook, stirring, until the tomato is thickened and reduced, about 7 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary. Add the sweet and hot paprikas, stir for a few seconds, then add the wine and the chicken stock. Cook the sauce to reduce it slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cream and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Let the sauce cool for a few minutes, then puree it in a blender until smooth. Scrape the sauce into a bowl, stir in the vinegar to taste and the sugar, and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce seems too thick, dilute it with a little stock or water.

6. To finish preparing the peppers, preheat the oven to 425°F.

7. Spread half of the tomato sauce in a baking dish that can hold the peppers in one snug layer. Arrange the peppers on top and spread the remaining sauce over them. Bake the peppers and sauce until they are very hot, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley. Serves 8 as a tapa, 4 to 6 as a light main course.

Variations:
Frying the piquillo peppers is traditional, but you can omit this step: Brush the stuffed peppers with oil and bake them in the tomato sauce. The recipe can be prepared ahead, in stages. Bake the peppers right before you are ready to serve. While I've chosen a veal filling here, the dish is just as often prepared with salt cod or seafood. To make it that way, substitute 12 to 14 ounces seafood (flaked crab, finely chopped shrimp, chopped fresh fish or a mixture), or presoaked poached, flaked salt cod for the veal. Cook the seafood briefly in the olive oil, then mix with the béchamel as described in Step 2.

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Source: Recipes © 2005 from The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. Featuring over 300 unique recipes, The New Spanish Table protrays the food and culture of Spain at its most vibrant. The perfect pairing for delicious Spanish wines! (Workman Publishing Co. Inc.)

 

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