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Peppers Stuffed with Salt Cod (Pimientos Rellenos de Bacalao)

Peppers Stuffed with Salt Cod (Pimientos Rellenos de Bacalao)
Many different kinds of sweet peppers are grown in Spain, but the piquillo is the most highly regarded. It is small and triangular, narrowing to a point at the bottom, and sweet with just a hint of heat. Sold fresh, it is also roasted and peeled and packed in cans and jars. In California and elsewhere, one can find a similar pepper called the gypsy pepper, but its season is quite brief. Don't hesitate to use the jarred or canned Spanish imports for this dish. Large fresh pimientos are also a good choice. If you must use fresh red bell peppers, select the smallest ones possible and cut away the thick inner ribs.

In this Basque version of salt cod–stuffed peppers, the peppers are bathed in a mild tomato sauce. Poached fresh cod can be used in place of the salt cod.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. boneless salt cod, soaked (see note)
  • 6 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbs. sweet paprika
  • 4 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup fish or vegetable stock or canned broth
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs, soaked in milk to cover
      and squeezed dry
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 8 canned or jarred roasted whole piquillo peppers or
      8 large fresh pimiento peppers, roasted and peeled
  • Olive oil for deep-frying
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Drain the cod and place in a saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a simmer very slowly over low heat. When it comes to a boil, remove from the heat and let the cod cool completely in the water. Drain well and break up the cod into small pieces with your fingers, removing any bits of skin and small bones. Set the cod aside.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, warm 3 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add half of the chopped onions and sauté until soft and pale gold, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, paprika, 2 Tbs. of the parsley and the 2 Tbs. flour. Stir well and add the white wine and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In another sauté pan over medium heat, warm the remaining 3 Tbs. oil. Add the remaining onions and the garlic and sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the cod and the bread crumbs, season with salt and pepper, and cook gently, stirring from time to time, until well mixed and softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the egg yolks and the remaining 2 Tbs. parsley and remove from the heat. Let cool completely.

Cut a slit down one side of each pepper and carefully remove the seeds. Stuff the peppers with the cooled cod mixture. If you like, secure the stuffing with toothpicks.

In a deep-fry pan, pour in olive oil to a depth of 1 1/2 inches and heat to 375°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Meanwhile, in a shallow bowl, beat the egg until blended. Put some flour for dusting in a separate bowl.

When the oil is ready, dip the peppers, one at a time, into the beaten egg and then coat with flour. Slip the peppers into the oil in small batches and fry, turning as needed, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a mesh skimmer, transfer the peppers to paper towels to drain.

When all the peppers are fried, transfer the tomato sauce mixture to a large fry pan and place over low heat. Add the stuffed peppers and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 8.

Note: To rehydrate salt cod, immerse the fish in a bowl of cold water. Cover and refrigerate, changing the water 4 to 6 times, for 24 to 36 hours. The soaking time will depend upon how heavily salted and how thick the cod is. When ready, the fish will be puffy and lighter in color. Drain and proceed as directed.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Spain & Portugal, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 2000).