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Relapse: Habanero chili May 5, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables.
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Sometimes, when Nero Wolfe has a relapse, he experiments with the same ingredient, seeing how many different recipes he and Fritz can make up using all of a lamb, or a sheep (Fergus Henderson would be proud!). As Archie can attest, sometimes this can result in sublime dishes, never tasted before or again, and other times it results in barely edible experiments gone horribly wrong.

Unlike Nero Wolfe, who sends Archie to all areas of New York (and beyond) for exotic ingredients, I don’t usually send H out chasing all over Melbourne! In this case I didn’t even have to chase for my relapse ingredient: a colleague brought many habanero chilis to work after her plant had sprouted. I grabbed 5 or 6 of them and brought them home and wondered what to do with them. I was a little scared in using the habaneros, as they are the second hottest chili in the world! Once I’d gotten over my fears, I worked out some different things to do with them. I therefore present to you: Habanero chili 3 ways.

Habanero oil

This one was easy. I got 2 of the chilis, sliced the ends of them to help release the flavour, and put them in a jar of oil. After I left it for about a week, the chilis had infused the oil, giving it both a depth of flavour and quite a bit of heat! This oil is great for adding to pasta sauces as it adds both the oil and a kick of chili.

Pasta sauce with chicken and habanero

Next, I used another of the habaneros to add to a pasta sauce. I started with a mix of garlic, onion, tomatoes and carrots.

While that began simmering, I prepared the habanero. As I mentioned before, I was a little scared of the (potential) heat of the chili. After consulting the internet, it said to make sure you wear gloves while chopping a habanero, to make sure none of the oil or juice gets on your hands! Well – I didn’t have many choices of gloves….here I am chopping a habanero wearing my dishwashing gloves!

Do you know how hard it is to chop a chili while wearing dishwashing gloves?! It’s not easy, I can tell you from experience. Maybe I overreacted just a little bit. I was also scared about adding too much chili to the sauce and making it inedible. I would chop a bit, add it in and stir it around, taste the sauce, chop a bit more of the chili, add it, taste it again – and so on. In the end I added the whole chili and to be honest I could have added more. After it simmered for a while, I served it with some pearl couscous (that’s what it was called when I bought it, apparently it’s also known as Israeli couscous and is actually closer to pasta than to [normal] couscous).

I really enjoyed the chili flavour in this dish. While the whole thing was certainly hot, the heat wasn’t overwhelming and I could actually *taste* the habanero rather than just getting a painful explosion of chili in my mouth. Additionally, I could still taste the other ingredients without only getting the chili. This was a nice way of adding a bit of heat without it being all that could be tasted.

Habanero and sweet potato gnocchi.

Finally, I decided it would be interesting to add some chili into a pasta directly, rather than into a sauce. I much prefer sweet potato to normal potatoes, and have made sweet potato gnocchi with success in the past. Besides, it seemed fitting to add such an orange chili to the orange sweet potato! If you have never made gnocchi before, I strongly recommend you give it a go with potatoes of your choice – it’s really easy, tastes delicious and freezes well.

To start with, I chopped and boiled some sweet potatoes until they were fairly soft. I drained them and mashed them finely (I just use a normal potato masher for this but some recipes recommend you use a potato ricer to get them mashed fine enough – I think a normal masher is fine as long as you’re prepared to mash until it’s quite fine). Then I chopped up my (remaining) habaneros and added them. Here’s a garish photo of orange on orange!

I mixed the habaneros in well with the sweet potatoes, and then mixed in plain flour until a smooth dough had formed. Then it was time to roll and cut! I divided my dough into 4 balls, and rolled each ball out until it was about 2cm thick. Then I cut small pieces to make the gnocchi.

When I’d rolled out and cut all my gnocchi, I made a simple sauce to go with them. I wanted the habaneros to still come through, so didn’t want the sauce to have lots of heavy flavours. I made a sauce using some of the habanero oil, salt and pepper, lemon zest, and sage and parsley. I cooked the sage and parsley until some parts had gone crispy, and the flavours of the herbs penetrated the oil.

After I’d made the sauce I went back to cook the gnocchi. They take only seconds to cook – maybe 1 minute at most – so I wanted to make sure the sauce was ready before I made the gnocchi. If you’re cooking homemade gnocchi, wait until the water is boiling and add the gnocchi. They’re ready when they float to the surface. I tossed the gnocchi in the sauce and served it with extra parsley on top.

I was really happy with how this came out. The pasta sauce was flavoursome but wasn’t too heavy, and the habanero definitely came through in the gnocchi! A couple of times I did get that painful sensation when I crunched down on a large piece of chili that I hadn’t chopped enough, but on the whole the habanero provided a general heat to the dish without being too much.

All in all I think this relapse was quite successful – I didn’t create anything inedible and all dishes were satisfying. I think I was a bit timid in using the chili – both in preparing them and in the amount I used – and would use more next time. Unlike Nero Wolfe I did have a finite number of chilis to use and I was definitely sad when I’d used all them all up!

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Comments»

1. demolishuncrew - September 11, 2011

Thank you for this great gnocchi idea. We are enjoying the habaneros we just gathered out of our garden and this is DEFINITELY on the TO DO list! Beautiful pictures, by the way.


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