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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018
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From the garden: A recipe for a no-nonsense tomato and courgette soup, with no-nonsense ingredients

Michael Kelly from GIY talks us through how to store chillies, and also how to make a delicious warming soup.

Michael Kelly Grower

I HARVESTED MY peppers this week from the polytunnel, mainly to free up some bed space for autumn/winter salad greens (claytonia, chervil, chard and the like) that have been hanging out in the potting shed and are more than ready to be planted out.

It’s been a long and finicky growing season for peppers, which were sown way back over seven months ago in a chilly February (remarkably that was even before the mad snowstorms – what a weird year it’s been).

They are not all ripe at this stage, with a mix of green and red on most plants, but I’m always relatively happy to pull out the plants since it’s kind of nice to have a mix of green and red in the kitchen.

We tend to forget with peppers (chilli and bell) that a green one is effectively not ripe yet. Though the green ones are fine to eat, I reckon they are tastier and sweeter when allowed to go red. Isn’t it odd that we happily eat a green, unripe pepper but wouldn’t consider eating an unripened apple, banana or other fruit and veg…?

With chilli-peppers they also generally get hotter as they mature from green to red. This year I grew the chilli varieties Ring of Fire and Hungarian Wax. The two varieties give us a nice range of heat – from relatively hot to ‘blow your head off’. As always the chilli-peppers are far more prolific and reliable than the bell peppers, and less prone to slug damage. They also grow really well in a pot or container.

The Hungarian Wax variety is generally harvested when still yellowy-green, though it will mature to orange and then red if left on the plant long enough. It is mild and big enough to be used as a bell pepper in cooking. In fact, I’ve been known to munch on them raw in the polytunnel earlier in the year (though they are a little hotter now).

They have a Scoville Scale (a scale for measuring the hotness of chillies – the higher the number, the hotter the chilli) rating of about 15,000 units. To put that in context, the Ring of Fire chilli has a Scoville rating of 70,000 units, while the Naga Jolokia (the world’s hottest chilli), measured an eye-watering one million units.

Ring of Fire produces masses of long, tapered chillies that start dark green and get hotter as they turn red. As a joke during filming for Grow Cook Eat, I took a bite of a Ring of Fire chilli – all I can say is that it wasn’t funny… and I wasn’t right for a day afterwards!

I’ve had coughing fits just from chopping these fiery bad boys. So from that perspective, harvesting at least some of them green is not a bad plan.

With so many chillies coming in to the kitchen in one go, thoughts turn to how to store them. As with many things I use lots of different methods from the relatively simple drying and freezing to slightly more elaborate approaches like making oils and salts. 

The Basics – Storing Chillies

Dried – get out a needle and thread and put a string of whole chillies together by threading through the stalks of the chillies. This is the traditional Mexican way of storing them, known as a ‘ristra’. Hang them somewhere nice and warm and dry (but not too warm or they will get brittle). Only ever store perfect fruit, as any little hole or blemish will get worse in storage.

Fridge – peppers will keep in a freezer bag or Tupperware container in the fridge for 2-3 weeks. A tip is to remove the stalk first which will prolong their storability even more.

Freezer – chilli peppers freeze remarkably well and they are very handy to have in the freezer. Because they get a little mushy when thawed out, I usually grate them from frozen to use them. I generally freeze them on a tray first and then pop them in a freezer bag so they don’t clump together frozen. You can also chop chillies in to an ice-cube tray, cover with water, freeze and then bag up the cubes. Then you can add ice-cubes of chilli to soups, stews etc when needed.

Oil – a chilli oil is a very fine condiment to have. I won’t eat a pizza without it.. Warm a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and add 2-3 whole chillies and a teaspoon of chilli flakes. As soon as they start to sizzle a little, add another cup of olive oil and let the whole lot warm up. Do not let it get too hot – you should be still able to put your finger in. When it’s warm, turn off the heat and allow to cool down completely. Put into a sterilised jar or bottle.

After a few weeks you can strain the oil (discard the chilli and flakes) in to a new bottle and this will prolong the life (the chillies themselves will be the first thing to rot).

Chilli Salt – JB, our chef in Grow HQ, makes a chilli salt by blitzing whole chillies with some coarse sea salt. Then put it on a tray and place in the hot press for a few days to dry out before putting in to a jar.

Recipe of the Week – Tomato and Courgette Soup

A no-nonsense soup recipe with no-nonsense ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 garlic clove chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds , ground in pestle and mortar
  • 1 small chilli chopped
  • 500g tomatoes chopped
  • 500g courgette roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1l chicken or veg stock
  • 10 basil leaves roughly chopped

Directions

Heat some oil in a large saucepan on a gentle heat. Add onion, garlic, coriander and chilli to the saucepan and cook gently for five mins until soft. Keeping the lid on will help prevent sticking.

Add tomatoes and courgette and cook for a few minutes. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the flour and give it a stir.

Add the chicken or veg stock. Bring to the boil and cook for 10-15 mins or until the courgettes are soft. Blitz. Add basil. Blitz again.

© GIY Ireland 2018 – all rights reserved.

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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