This is what happens when I get to the corner grocery or (more occasionally) the farmer’s market at the end of the day: I’ve already got a basket full of stuff, ripe, bursting with aromas it would take most supermarket produce days, weeks or forever to achieve. But there in the last-chance corner is a bag of very pale green, very contorted Hungarian peppers, about 10-15 of them for a last-chance dollar. They’re in good shape, maybe one or two has a couple of minor wrinkles, but that’s it. I can’t resist.
At first I thought I’d use them to stuff with corn kernels and feta and scallions, which I haven’t done for a while. But when I got them home, they were obviously too twisted to stuff, and very thin-walled at that. And unlike Anaheim or pasilla chiles, not really spicy enough to set off the corn. What then?
I’ve been feeling my nonexistent Italian and Greek roots lately, so I thought, pepperoncini? Well, why not? I did pickled green tomatoes last year, and it was incredibly easy (except for finding the green unripe tomatoes, which even my local Armenian corner store doesn’t provide often, and especially not at the height of the summer Fresno tomato frenzy).
But I didn’t want to wait two whole days for the peppers to ferment. And I didn’t want them quite as salty as actual pickles. So I decided to microwave-marinate them the way I make marinated artichoke hearts.
Yes, you can always just buy a jar of pepperoncini. My greengrocer definitely has them. But if you have the fresh peppers and they’re dirt cheap and you just want them right now, not necessarily every day for the next three months, microwaving them takes all of five minutes, and the result is surprisingly good.
It also brings out the full flavor of the peppers quickly–even a hint of spice, though they’re still not hot, and you can limit the salt to your own taste.
On my first attempt, I had already microwaved the peppers two minutes on an open plate because I’d started out to stuff them. I changed my mind (someone ate the last leftover ear of corn behind my back, ahem!) and decided to pickle them instead. They were a bit softer than what I’d normally expect in pepperoncini, but still pretty good. If you don’t precook them, they should still have a bit of backbone when they’re done.
(aka, “Hungarian Horntail Peppers” in honor of the new Harry Potter–book? it’s actually a play, I think–“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which was just released July 31 in print at midnight).
All quantities and cooking times below are necessarily approximate because microwave times depend on the amount of food you’re cooking. This is what I did for 6 peppers, so play around. I know, this is the kind of inexact instruction that makes microwave recipes so unpopular, I’m well aware…but I have faith in your ability to figure it out and decide for yourself how you want it to taste and how tender you want it to be.
- 5-10 Hungarian or other longish, thin-walled mild peppers, washed, stemmed and deseeded
- 3-4 T vinegar (plain cheap wine, apple cider or distilled white–just nothing sweet)
- 1/2 t or so kosher salt or 1/4 t table salt (table salt is a little less than twice as dense)
- 1-2 garlic cloves, small or medium, peeled
Cut up the peppers as desired–this could be as halves, bite-size pieces, shreds or rings. Up to you. Put them in a microwaveable container with a lid–I favor the semidisposable but no-BPA Gladware or store brand ones.
Add the salt (be a little sparing, you can always add a little but you can’t take it back out) and a half-and-half mix of vinegar and water, say a couple of tablespoons each, to about 1/4-1/2 inch in depth in the container. Peel one or two garlic cloves (smallish to medium size) and either slice them in half or make a couple of cuts halfway through one end. Add them to the container, put the lid on tight, and shake very lightly over the sink (try not to marinate your shirt) just to get the salt and vinegar/water mixing a little.
Microwave 3 minutes on HIGH, but stop and check at 2 minutes or so and see if the peppers are tender enough yet without being mushy. If they’re cooked enough for you and taste about right, that’s it. If they’re undercooked or not marinated enough for you after stirring them around, add microwave time (in 20-30 second increments) or salt (or a little more vinegar) to taste.
Cool them and refrigerate. Serve on salads or subs. Note: they taste pretty good with fennel seeds and hot pepper flakes sprinkled somewhere nearby on the plate.