I’ve been completely dazzled by the array of fresh peppers available at our local farmers’ market – it seems every Saturday I come home with more, and it’s hard sometimes to think of ways to use them up. But I knew, at some point, that I wanted to try my hand at making my own harissa, and this weekend was the perfect chance to do just that.

My version is based on Amy Scattergood’s basic recipe, which is referenced in both Heidi’s and Luisa’s posts, and I definitely took inspiration from both of them as far as modifications to the harissa as well as the dish I first used it in. And I tried, dear friends, to keep track of what I added and in what amounts, but darn it, I just lost the thread in the end. But here’s what I recall:

I started by soaking some dried chiles in hot water – guajillos and costeños, 3-4 apiece – then cutting off the stems, removing the seeds, and snipping them into smallish pieces. (Do wear protective gloves for this to avoid nasty burns – the oils cling to your skin and are very difficult to get off.) I placed the pieces into the food processor with four fat cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed), some crunchy salt, ground coriander and caraway seeds. I pulsed them a few times and then added more peppers, in the form of some of my grilled marinated red bells, along with 3 small fresh red chiles (also stemmed and seeded). I pulsed the mixture a few more times, and then added a couple of tablespoons of rose flower water and a dollop of tomato paste. I whizzed it up again, this time drizzling in some of our best extra virgin olive oil as the blade turned. I ended up with a creamy, brick red paste that is intensely hot, but has a lovely complexity. I spooned the mixture into a jar and floated a little more olive oil on top, then set it in the fridge for later.

Dinner:  September 23, 2008

I knew before I made the harissa what I wanted to do with it first: I’ve had Heidi’s pasta recipe bookmarked since she posted it, and the combination of harissa with leafy greens and an earthy whole-grain pasta did not disappoint. I used farro linguine and some of Woodstock Farm’s lovely rainbow chard, and the resulting dish was as pleasing to the palate as it was to the eye, a vibrant blend of textures, colors and flavors. I forgot to add olives and lemon zest, but I think they’d be a wonderful addition. Next time.

(Side note: I’m nursing an awful flare today, but thanks to my laptop and our wireless connection, I’m blogging from bed. Three cheers for technology! But I make no guarantee that you’ll get a post tomorrow. Mike’s cooking tonight anyway, he has been all day actually. Pork belly confit. Which is a wonderful thing to smell while convalescing with the cats.)

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