goat cheese

"How to Stuff a Pepper" by Nancy Willard + Poblano Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese | Eat This Poem

When I was newly married, my husband worked as a retail manager. It was a short-lived period of our life that often left me alone for dinner while he worked through the evening rush. 

One night, I made stuffed peppers. They were red, brimming with couscous and herbs, probably topped with gooey cheese. I thought nothing of it, but Andrew came home from work that night and said "You made stuffed peppers? Without me?!" At the time, stuffed peppers seemed like quite an occasion. Jokingly, he made me promise I wouldn't make stuffed peppers again unless we were both present to enjoy the meal. Reading this poem by Nancy Willard, I couldn't help but smile and remember fondly those early years of marriage, especially in light of the eight year (!) anniversary we celebrated last week. 

How to Stuff a Pepper

by Nancy Willard

Now, said the cook, I will teach you
how to stuff a pepper with rice.

Take your pepper green and gently,
for peppers are shy.  No matter which side
you approach, it's always the backside.
Perched on green buttocks, the pepper sleeps.
In its silk tights, it dreams
of somersaults and parsley,
of the days when the sexes were one.

Slash open the sleeve
as if you were cutting a paper lantern,
and enter a moon, spilled like a melon,
a fever of pearls,
a conversation of glaciers.
It is a temple built to the worship
of morning light.

I have sat under the great globe
of seeds on the roof of that chamber,
too dazzled to gather the taste I came for.
I have taken the pepper in hand,
smooth and blind, a runt in the rich
evolution of roses and ferns.
You say I have not yet taught you

to stuff a pepper?
Cooking takes time.

Next time we'll consider the rice.

Used by permission of Nancy Willard in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc (permissions@jvnla.com) @ 1974 by Nancy Willard. Find Nancy Willard online at http://www.openroadmedia.com/nancy-willard.

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese | Eat This Poem
Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

To cook, one must learn by doing. You can view television shows, read cookbooks, and even watch your parents or grandparents over the stove, but eventually you must roll up your sleeves and follow a recipe yourself, and today's poem offers instructions to both novice and seasoned cooks. 

In the first lines, the speaker confidently remarks that readers will learn to stuff peppers. Soon we are taught to "slash open the sleeve/ as if you were cutting a paper lantern," and coax an inherent shyness out of peppers during the cooking process. But three stanzas later, we are still talking about peppers and are promised that next time, "we'll consider the rice." 

If you feel a sense of disappointment, don't, because there is a great lesson here. Cooking, like all ventures in life worth doing well, takes time, and going off course is part of the process. It's like talking with a good friend. You sit down, intent to discuss a series of mundane and not so mundane topics, when you find yourself lost on a tangent that lasts an hour. By then your tea is cold, the afternoon has disappeared, and the only option that remains is to scribble another meeting in your calendar to pick up where you left off.

Cooking is not about the peppers, ingredients, or recipe instructions, but the discoveries we make during the process. We are nourished by knife cuts, smells of the season, and family and friends coming alongside us in the kitchen. Our best cooking happens just as Willard's poem unfolds, by beginning with a single task, then losing ourselves in a trance of memory when we realize the vegetable we hold in our hand "is a temple built to the worship/ of morning light." 

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese | Eat This Poem

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese

They're not terribly photogenic, but what the peppers lack in beauty, they make up for in satisfaction. I took a Tex-Mex approach with these peppers. The cumin-laced sauce plays nicely against tangy goat cheese, and a hearty filling of beans and whole grains makes this a wonderful vegetarian main course. 

For the peppers

4 poblano peppers
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 can pinto beans or black beans
1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro
4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, divided
Salt and freshly cracked pepper

For the sauce

1 28 oz. can tomatoes
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Over a gas flame, roast the peppers for about 2 minutes per side, turning with tongs, until the skin is blistered and browned. Place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for 15 minutes, then gently rub off the skin as best you can. Carefully slice off the stems, remove the seeds, and slice in half lengthwise.

Add the sauce ingredients to a sturdy blender and blend until smooth; pour into an 8x13-inch baking dish. (If you'd like a bit more heat, add a pinch of cayenne pepper!)

Add the quinoa, beans, cilantro, goat cheese, 1/4 cup monterey jack, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a medium bowl. This is the messiest part, but the most fun. Really use your hands to mush up the thick filling. Then use one hand to cradle a loose pepper skin while you dollop some filling (about 1/4 cup) on top, mounding it until firm; repeat with all the peppers and gently place them into the sauce. 

Once the peppers are snuggled in, top with remaining 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce has reduced slightly.

The Good Stuff + Zucchini, Basil, and Goat Cheese Salad

People get down about this time of year, but even today there were fat little partridges, clementines heavy with juice, and bunches of narcissi to cheer us up. There is good stuff if you are prepared to go and find it.
— Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

One hundred miles might seem like a long drive for a picnic. You are not wrong to think so, but our destination was a place of respite, something we desperately needed. Normally I would have planned an elaborate lunch, cooking pasta salad and assembling sandwich ingredients, trying new recipes, buying cheeses, generally overdoing things. But lately I've been learning the important lesson of letting go, conserving my energy, and not doing everything myself. It's hard to do, but freeing. 

I bought most of our provisions earlier in the week from Good Eggs, and had them delivered on Friday. Local goat cheese, salami, beet chips, and seed clusters for snacking made for the best picnic fare I could have hoped for. Early Saturday morning we tucked Emma (the dog) into her travel bed in the backseat and stopped by a favorite bakery for ham and Gruyere sandwiches and two macaroons to finish our meal. An hour and a half later, we were eating brunch at Jeannine's in Montecito.

It's a long way to go for a picnic, yes, but we ventured out to find Nigel Slater's "good stuff." In this case, we knew where it was located already, we just needed to drive there. Our "good stuff" is the shaded patio of Rusack Vineyards, overlooking a mountain lined with grapevines, a glass of Rose in one hand and a bite of cheese in the other. And a warm breeze. 

I've been making my way through The Kitchen Diaries, a volume I've been longing to read, and the way it's written in monthly chapters makes it easy to revisit throughout the year and read month by month to glean inspiration. 

For picnic inspiration, I turned to the month of August. Yes, I'm a bit far ahead, but the weather we've been having has made it feel like summer, so I've been craving lighter fare. For meals outside, a zucchini, basil, and goat cheese salad is perfect. Dressed with oil and lemon juice, you can barely call it a recipe. It's more like a suggestion for having the most splendid afternoon.

Zucchini, Basil, and Goat Cheese Salad / Eat This Poem

Zucchini, Basil, and Goat Cheese Salad

Recipe slightly adapted from Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

Serves 2

This is what I would have made had I been able to fuss with it, but as I mentioned, I let others do the work for me this time and was grateful for the rest. Back at home, though, cooking is in full force. 

4 zucchini, cut into thick strips, about 1/4-inches (you'll get three or four strips out of each zucchini)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon juice
2 large basil leaves, torn
1 ounce goat cheese

Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Brush each zucchini strip with oil and place on the grill pan. Cook for three to five minutes per side, until golden grill marks form. Arrange on a platter, then whisk a tablespoon each of oil and lemon and drizzle it over the zucchini. Scatter the basil and goat cheese over the top before serving.

New York Times Haiku + Pepperonata and Goat Cheese Crostini


Earlier this year, The New York Times launched a haiku project. Have you seen it? Bravo to the computer coders who created an algorithm that scans the home page for phrases with 17 syllables, then uploads them to a Tumblr feed. The result is a playful take on the news that I've very much enjoyed browsing through.  

Several food haiku's have emerged, so naturally, I've been itching to feature one here. Last month, one of my very favorite food blogs, Rachel Eats, posted about pepperonata, a combination of peppers, onions, and tomatoes cooked until a rich and sweet sauce is created.

"There is a moment of stove top alchemy when you make peperonata. It’s when – having softened the sliced onion in butter and oil – you add the sliced red peppers and cover the pan. In just a matter of minutes the crisp, taut slices of pepper surrender their abundant juices and then proceed swim and soften in their own juices: a deep pool of cardinal red stock." -Rachel Roddy


I couldn't wait to make it, but there were still another five days until I could walk to the market, basket in hand, and gather my provisions. It was agony. 

The timing couldn't have been better, though, because this is how I like to eat this time of year. A platter of a few things set out before the sun goes down, a glass of rose nearby, perhaps some music playing. Just lingering. Nibbling on a bite of prosciutto or melon before walking back into the kitchen to give something a stir. 

Now that Sunday's meal was settled, I revisited my list of favorite haiku's, and the one below caught my eye. It's pulled from a recipe for mushroom bruschetta, lovely in its own right, but with pepperonata fresh in my mind, it paired perfectly.  

onion haiku.gif

Pepperonata and Goat Cheese Crostini

Last month I waited every so patiently for Sunday when I could go to the market and scoop up the peppers and tomatoes I needed for this dish. (I also picked up a silky, local goat cheese. The mild tang paired beautifully with the sweetness of the vegetables.

Tomatoes! They're finally here, and for their 2013 debut in my kitchen, I'd say we're off to a wonderful season. This recipe lends itself to a variety of adaptations, like using the pepperonata to top a pizza, or as a spread for a roast beef sandwich.

Adapted every so slightly from Rachel Eats

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small brown onion, sliced
4 large red peppers, seeded and ribs removed, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 a baguette, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2-4 ounces goat cheese

Heat the oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Give it a stir and season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Add the peppers, another pinch of salt, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until the peppers and onions are exceedingly tender and have started to melt into the rich tomato sauce. You'll know when it's done. The pepperonata will be deep red and glossy, and the tomato skins will collapse at the touch of a wooden spoon.

While the pepperonata cools, prepare the crostini. Heat an oven to 450 degrees and assemble the bread on a sheet pan. Drizzle with some olive oil, then bake for 8-10 minutes, or until crisp and the edges are brown.

Serve pepperonata alongside the crostini and soft goat cheese.