02 September 2012

From kitchen disaster to chef's masterpiece

We have a wonderful sweet pepper sold here in the farmers markets (ferias) of Costa Rica. At the moment there is an abundant harvest going on and the price has dropped to less than a dollar a pound.  Depending on size, that could be anywhere from 12 to 20 peppers. They are similar to a bell pepper, 4 or 5 inches long, and they taper down to a point from the stem. They are sold green, red & green, and red (when fully ripe). I love to use them in many of my recipes.

Yesterday found me with way too many peppers to consume in a week so I roasted a bunch, de-seeded and peeled them to pack in olive oil. Peppers packed in oil will keep for weeks in the fridge and their roasted sweetness makes the ideal substitute for pimentos and canned diced green chilies.

Since I had all these roasted peppers ready to store, I came up with the "brilliant" idea to make pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch. I can't remember the last time we had that for lunch. Anyway, I digress...

Searching the fridge for cheese I found we had some cheeses from the ECAG (the UTC (national technical university) has a local college campus for The Central American School for Animal Husbandry). We like most of their cheeses and try to buy local whenever we can. This time I found we had some of their wonderful Gouda and a finely grated salty cheese that looked to be cheddar and whatever else they decided to throw in the mix that day. I also found we had some grated cheese from the national dairy that is sold for pizza topping, containing a mix of mild cheddar, mozzarella and another white cheese similar to a Monterrey Jack.

I'm no slouch around the kitchen and that looked like a pretty good start to a pimento cheese spread if you ask me. I started with about a cup of the ECAG grated cheese, then I added the other two cheeses in equal amounts, half a tub of cream cheese, half a cup of mayonnaise, a little grated onion and garlic, a half cup of diced roasted red peppers and lots of fresh ground black pepper. Sounds yummy, right?  IT WAS AWFUL!!! It was so salty from the ECAG grated cheese, it was unpalatable. I started adding more and more of the other cheese I had on hand and it improved just enough to be able to choke down a sandwich.

After lunch I stored the disaster (now a large bowl full) in the fridge, wondering if anything at all could be done to salvage it. You know, kinda along the lines of making lemonade out of lemons.

Fast forward to today.... "John, what do you want for lunch?"

"Oh, I don't know.... got any of that cheese spread left?"

"Yes, but it's way too salty to do anything with it."

"Why don't you boil some pasta and then mix the spread into it?  It might be O.K. that way, just don't salt the pasta when you cook it."

What a genius! So glad I married the smart guy. This got the wheels turning and I came up with way to salvage what would have found it's way to the garbage.

I cooked some Penne pasta until just slightly al dente, then I folded in my salty pimento cheese spread and add some freshly chopped basil leaves. I buttered a casserole dish, layered in my new version of a "mac 'n cheese", poured about a half a cup of milk over it, topped it with some grated mozzarella and baked it for 30 minutes. Wow! It is now an over-the-top, grown-up "mac 'n cheese" masterpiece.  I am so saving this recipe!

Guess what's for dinner!

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