The thing about cooking is that it’s really not hard.
I’m not just saying that because I cook and I want you all to think I’m really great. Cooking isn’t hard, if you approach it from the right angle: Focus on the ingredients, not the spectacular results. There is no good cooking that doesn’t start with good ingredients. Skill will take you so far; but good ingredients, prepared artfully, which is to say simply and in such a way that they’re allowed to assert themselves, will guarantee good cooking. That’s the kind of cooking where the food you make tastes delicious.
So let’s think about this recipe. Right now it’s the beginning of fall, which is when those late-summer crops — corn, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers — have stored up several months’ worth of sunlight and give a great final flourish of bright colors and strong flavors before the cold comes along and murders them. So I wanted to cook peppers. I knew they’d taste sweet and I wanted to emphasize their sweetness, but I thought if I cooked them slowly them I might lose their nice fresh flavor, so I decided to cook them quickly over very high heat, to caramelize them. In fact, I wanted to grill them, because peppers are good with a touch of smokiness, but I didn’t have a grill. So instead, I made a makeshift grill on my stovetop (see the recipe that follows), removed the peppers’ skins to get rid of the bitter, charred flavor, and served them just with garlic-flavored oil and salt: oil to deepen the flavor and make them soft and slick in the mouth (the garlic was extra, but only took 10 minutes), and salt to boost the flavor and bring out its nuances. And that was it. The peppers were delicious.
Cooking is more thinking than skill. You’re all smart. So start cooking.
Recipe: Roasted Sweet Peppers
Active time: 20 minutes. Actual time: 40 minutes. Serves 4 as a large first course.
8 bell peppers, preferably from the farmers’ market, and all of them red, yellow, orange, or purple, but never green
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
1. Wash and dry the peppers. Peel the garlic cloves and lay them in the olive oil in a very small saucepan over very low heat. Cook, turning cloves occasionally, for 10 minutes, never letting the oil get so hot that the garlic turns brown. Remove the cloves, and set the oil aside.
2. Meanwhile, take one of the metal grates from the burners on your stovetop and lay it over another grate, rotated 45 degrees to make an eight-pointed star. (If your grates aren’t removable or you have electric burners, use the oven’s broiler or a charcoal or gas grill. The point is to get the peppers close to an open flame, but not too close.) Turn the burner on to medium, and lay one of the peppers directly on the grate. When the side of the pepper closest to the flame is fully black (that means black, like really charred), rotate it to another side and continue doing so until the entire pepper is blackened. Remove pepper from flame, place it in a plastic bag and seal or twist the bag shut, to let the pepper steam itself as it cools. Repeat for remaining seven peppers.
3. When peppers are cool enough to handle, slide charred skin from the flesh with your fingers (it should come right off; if some small bits are left, don’t worry about it). With a sharp knife, cut the top off the peppers and remove all the seeds from inside them. Slice remaining skinless, seedless flesh into 1/2-inch slices and dry slices with a paper towel. Lay slices on a plate in whatever aesthetic arrangement suits you, pour reserved oil over peppers, and salt to taste. Enjoy.