On the continuum of slow cooking drying and slow-roasting are pretty near the end of the tail. In arid, sunny regions an oven isn’t even necessary and the sun stands in. But with an oven at hand and the recurring problem of what to do with its residual heat (see my post on making Chardonnay Apple Butter) I used it to roast/dry sweet and hot red peppers.
I went to Highland Farms the week after Labour Day in search of a bushel of tomatoes for tomato sauce. They were all sold out but had sweet red bell peppers by the bushel–that’s 36.36875L to be absolutely exact. I bought one of these, took it to the cottage and divided the peppers between six pans that went into the oven after a pizza session. The fire had died down but there were still hot coals near the back of the oven.
The results here were mixed, to say the least. I definitely should have taken more care to let the oven’s heat equalise, scrape the coals out, and let the temperature cool a bit. The quarter bushel that was closest to the coals was absolutely carbonised. They literally looked like black metal garden ornaments and cracked open at the touch of a knife like the turkey from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Roughly half the bushel that was closest to the door (furthest from the coals) turned out perfectly. I skinned these, sliced the flesh into large strips and pickled it.
The peppers in the middle caused some pause for me. They were obviously too far to pickle as roasted red peppers but not nearly carbonised enough to throw them out. I put them in a resealable bag and froze them with very little idea what I was going to do with them until Joel from Well Preserved gave me a great idea: homemade paprika. I’ll definitely give this a shot very soon and report on the results.
What of the skins on the peppers that “worked”? Wasn’t that a major pain in the ass? Not really. Inside in a confined space when working with two or three peppers the ratio of mess to product is almost enough to make me avoid the procedure all together. Outside seeds and skins go directly onto the compost (i.e. just about anywhere) and the sticky juice is conveniently washed away with a hose.
I used a very similar process for the hot peppers (Red Cayenne from Urban Harvest) that I grew in a pot by our vegetable garden this year. In past hot pepper plants have not done well for me. I think I have written about this before but the problem is that they need to be started inside and not only can they absolutely not tolerate a frost but they really shouldn’t be put outside until the middle of June. That all means that I tend to either transplant them into a too-small corner of the garden or near plants that use their head start to shade them out. This year the crop was much bigger and the fifteen or so peppers that I dried should last a long time.
I’m not posting formal recipes here because there is only one ingredient (peppers) and one step involved in drying them (put them in moderate to warm wood oven over night). Admittedly the wood oven part will be a problem for some so I set to thinking how this could be done in a conventional kitchen oven. I bet Google would offer several suggestions but the problems are that an oven which is on will probably be too warm and one that is preheated and then turned off will probably cool too quickly.
I suppose you could try to temporarily disable your oven’s venting fan or plug the vent hole but that will almost definitely a. violate your warranty; b. end up causing expensive damage to the unit; or c. if you have a gas oven create the sort of explosive conditions I don’t want to consider. In other words: Please don’t try this or if you do know that I don’t at all recommend it. You’d be better off doing your best to mimic the conditions of a wood oven by filling the bottom shelf with firebricks–for the same price as a fancy pizza stone ten of these provide much more thermal mass–and then preheat at the oven’s highest setting for 30 – 45 minutes. Fully-loaded, with the door open for as little time as possible I bet you could turn the oven off and get good results overnight like this. I know the firebricks will be a good investment (for other applications like pizza) but I’ve never tried this process so I make no guarantees that the peppers won’t be wasted.
I consider both of these experiments a success for similar reasons. In one case I took a local product which is dirt cheap in season–the fifty-six litre bushel was fifteen dollars–and preserved it for use when the the grocery store price is many times that. In the other a garden bounty that we couldn’t have eaten before it went bad is preserved for use all winter.