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the habanada pepper: fresh, and dried two ways

I’ve used and written about these peppers so often, both fresh, as seen above, when they were available last summer, and now home-dried, that I decided I had to do a special post about them alone, if only to have something to link to.

The Habanada is a highbred pepper which was developed only recently; I think it it’s a very special one.

This paragraph, from a page on the Cornel University Small Farms Program site, is an introduction to their origin story, which, like most such stories, includes a hero:

Habanada is a brand new pepper, the first truly heatless habanero (hence the haba-nada) bursting with all the bright, tropical flavor of the fruit unmasked. Many attempts have been made over the years but none have achieved the fullness of flavor with absolutely zero heat. Their crisp, thin skin has an exotic, floral flavor like no pepper I have ever tasted. From cast-away seed to a signature show-stopper variety, Michael Mazourek has brought this pepper a long way in just thirteen generations.

I’ve encountered Habanadas only at Norwich Meadows Farm, in the Union Square Greenmarket.

When dried, which I did myself in order to extend their season through the winter and spring, at the suggestion of Haifa Kurdieh, who runs the farm with her husband Zaid, they look like this:

I retrieved the darker, very serious looking mahogany-colored batch from the oven just in time; they have more than a hint of smokiness (and, oddly something like an anise scent), in addition to the elements they retain from the original Habanero. The golden orange ones, which were my second try, are somehow both more gentle and more powerfully aromatic; they’re quite perfect, in every way.

This is a close-up of the dried golden orange, just after they came out of the oven:

All three versions have been wonderful additions to many parts of many meals over the last 6 or 8 months. I miss the fresh peppers, but I’ve been using both the darker and the lighter versions more than frequently ever since I dried them last fall, as a quick search will show. They work with everything, meat, fish, eggs, pasta, vegetables. The only difficulty they present, I might confess, is controlling my addiction (and deciding which of the 2 to use in any particular application).

baked eggs, leeks, tomato, habanada, crème fraîche, herbs

It was again Sunday breakfast with eggs, this time without the bacon, but with tomatoes (which usually make an appearance at this time) – and leeks, which were standing in for one or more of the smaller alliums which are usually a part of our weekend treat.

Because of other commitments, right now I’m in the midst of almost a week of evenings when I am unable to cook dinner. I hadn’t foreseen this when I was buying vegetables in the Greenmarket, which helps explain the inclusion of the leeks here.

  • three medium leeks from Norwich Meadows Farm, cooked with 3 or 4 tablespoons of butter inside a tin-lined heavy copper sauté pan until they were tender, approximately a third of a cup of chopped herbs added (thyme and rosemary from Eataly, peppermint from Lani’s Farm, flat-leaf parsley from Whole Foods, oregano from Lani’s Farm, and lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge), transferred to a buttered glazed ceramic oven dish, the mixture spread evenly on the bottom, 6 eggs from Millport Dairy Farm cracked on top, 6 large Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Whole Foods, each cut in 3 slices, scattered about, and dollops of Ronnybrook Farms crème fraîche, stirred with a little whole milk (double cream would have been more convenient, but I had none), dropped on the surfaces around the eggs and the tomatoes, the dish seasoned with good sea salt and freshly-ground Tellicherry pepper, set on a rack in the middle of an oven preheated to 400º, then served on 2 plates atop thick slices of a toasted ‘polenta boule’ from She Wolf Bakery [I sprinkled some micro bronze fennel from Two Guys from Woodbridge on the plated eggs after I had taken the picture at the top]
  • the music was Heinrich Schutz’s 1619, ‘Musikalische Exequien’, Sigiswald Kuijken conducting La Petite Bande 

croxetti, brown butter, pinoli, habanada, oregano, parsley

It’s just pasta, supposedly, and the ingredients are virtually identical to so many others but, through the mystery of shape, terroir, process, and tradition, croxetti never tastes like any other.

We’ve enjoyed it at home several times, but not in the form we enjoyed last night. I didn’t know what exactly to expect, but I wasn’t disappointed.

  • four ounces of Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter, melted over medium heat inside, ideally, a medium non-reactive pan, gently swirling until the butter had begun to turn golden brown, or about 5 minutes, one whole section, crushed, of a golden orange dried habanada pepper then added, followed by a fourth of a cup or more of pine nuts (pinoli) which had earlier been scattered on a small metal baking sheet and toasted inside a 325º oven for about 15 minutes, about half a teaspoon of sea salt, a bit of freshly-ground Tellicherry pepper, and half of a 2 tablespoon mixture of fresh oregano from Lani’s Farm and parsley from Whole Foods, both chopped, the sauce tossed with 8 ounces of a package of Genovese Alta Valle Scrivia Croxetti from Eataly, the mix stirred over a low to medium flame with some reserved pasta water to emulsify it, then arranged inside 2 shallow bowls, a bit of olive oil drizzled around the edges, and topped with a small amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano Vache Rosse from Eataly before it was sprinkled with the remaining chopped herbs
  • the wine was a California (Sonoma) white, Jacqueline Bahue Carte Blanche Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley 2016, from Naked Wines
  • the music was chamber music by Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996), performed by Ensemble MidtVest

roasted squid, oregano, chilis, habanada, fennel; spinach

I’m probably never going to understand why squid are not way up at the top of the scale when it comes to popularity, for their taste alone. When cooked with some sensitivity, they are one of the most delicious seafood forms around, and they really need very little embellishment. They’re also completely sustainable, and I think they’re available all over the world, anywhere people might be settled near an ocean.

They’re also apparently very intelligent, but I’m not sure where that fits into this discussion, especially since the only foods we consume that weren’t once a part of a living thing are salt and water.

Squid are definitely among the least expensive delicacies in a fish market, which I suppose might only represent their abundance, and not the disdain of the consumer, but I still wonder about their modest popularity index.

This particular batch, together with the success I had in cooking them, may have been my best experience with this cephalopod, ever.

I suppose the image below, showing how I arranged a pound of squid on a plate after having dried them thoroughly, just before I placed them in 2 oven pans, might say something about how I feel about these creatures.

The spinach, which had somehow been overwintered in the middle of New Jersey, even without the ‘high cave’ protection which has ensured so many loyal Greenmarket habitués a supply of green vegetables since the end of the so-called ‘growing season’, was impossibly sweet.

  • two large rectangular enameled cast iron pans heated on top of the stove until quite hot, their cooking surfaces then brushed with olive oil, once the oil was also quite hot, then one pound of rinsed and carefully dried squid from Blue Moon Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket, mostly bodies but a few tentacles, quickly arranged inside, immediately sprinkled with some with some super-pungent dried Sicilian oregano from Buon Italia, part of one dried Sicilian pepperoncino, also from Buon Italia, and an entire section of a home-dried heatless, orange/gold Habanada pepper (purchased fresh from Norwich Meadows Farm last fall), some sea salt and freshly-ground Tellicherry pepper, followed by a drizzle of a few tablespoons of juice from a local lemon from Fantastic Gardens of Long Island, and some olive oil, the pan placed inside a pre-heated 400º oven and roasted for 5 minutes, removed, the squid distributed onto 2 plates, ladled with a bit of their cooking juices, after they had been transferred to a sauce pitcher, scattered with a little micro bronze fennel from Two Guys from Woodbridge, and served with halves of another, tiny local lemon-lime served on the side of each plate
  • a generous amount of very sweet overwintered (I was told not in a ‘high cave’) spinach from Lani’s Farm, washed in several changes of water, drained, very gently wilted (that is, not reduced too far) inside a large enameled cast iron pot in a little olive oil in which one 2 cloves of garlic from John D. Madura Farm, quartered, had first been allowed to sweat, then seasoned with salt, freshly-ground Tellicherry pepper, a little of the dried Sicilian pepperoncino, drizzled with olive oil and a little sweet local lemon juice from Fantastic Gardens of Long Island
  • the wine was an Italian (Campania) white, Cantina di Lisandro Alabranno Fiano 2015, from Chelsea Wine Vault
  • the music was Louis-Nicolas Clérambault’s 1706 pastorale, ‘Le Triomphe D’iris’, performed by Hervé Niquet conducting Le Concert Spirituel

steak, rosemary; fingerlings, habanada, lovage; chard

The little steaks were tri-tips, already one of the most flavorful of beef cuts. These 2 were 100% grass-fed, apparently a very important distinction for many people, but one which I have not yet been able to fully grasp. I do know that they were delicious, possibly more ‘meaty’ than most we’ve had in the past, may have been more lean than we would normally have expected, and they seemed to take a bit less time to cook (ending up very slightly less rare than we would normally prefer, but definitely not a disappointment).

The diminutive size of the potatoes didn’t suggest to me they’d have much sophistication, but they turned out to be really tasty. Some of their personality may have been stimulated by the 2 forms of dried habanada pepper with the seasoned olive oil and rosemary leaves in which they were tossed before they went into the oven.

The chard was amazingly sweet and absolutely delicious. I had tasted it raw at the farmer’s stand, so I know it would have been terrific even if I hadn’t added other elements to the dish.

  • two juicy tri-tip steaks (each barely 7 ounces) from Maple Avenue Farms, via Mike at the Sun Fed Beef Meats stall in the Union Square Greenmarket, brought to room temperature, dried and sprinkled generously with some freshly-ground Tellicherry pepper on both sides, pan-grilled for a few minutes, turning twice (sprinkled with sea salt the first and second time), removed to 2 plates, a little sweet local lemon juice from Fantastic Gardens of Long Island squeezed on top, sprinkled with some chopped rosemary leaves from Eataly, then drizzled with a little olive oil
  • some tiny nutty fingerling potatoes from Phillips Farm, washed, scrubbed, tossed with sea salt, freshly-ground Tellicherry pepper, and a little of both forms of dried habanera pepper (mostly the orange-golden), arranged on a medium Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan, roasted at 375º for about 20 minutes, tossed with some chopped lovage from Two Guys from Woodbridge, stirred a bit on the pan, then arranged on the plates with a garnish of a little more lovage
  • chard from Norwich Meadows Farm, wilted in a little olive oil in which one large halved garlic clove from John D. Madeira Farm and a pinch of some crushed dried dried Itria-Sirissi chili, peperoncino di Sardegna intero, from Buon Italia had been heated, finished with a squeeze of juice from the same local lemon used on the steak and a drizzle of olive oil
  • the wine was a California (Sierra Foothills) red, F. Stephen Millier Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon California 2015

Maybe because the weather seemed to have finally turned (as I type this the next day, the birds are chattering like crazy outside my open window), we had a frozen dessert, probably for the first time since last summer.