Toro! Sweet Pepper Pizza

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Corno di Toro pizza with sweet peppers, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Gruyere cheese and anchovy.

When Columbus first came to the island of Hispanola, he took time out of torturing the natives who refused to work in the silver mines to find new and exciting varieties of vegetables. Enter capsicum or the sweet pepper into world history. When he got these peppers back to Italy eventually, the locals looked at them with great suspicion and grew them only for decoration.

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Larry Cowdery in his sprawling pepper field and the fruits of his labor ready for killer pie.

These days, as you eat your way around Europe, you’d think these heirloom peppers had been around since the caveman days. Pollo Alla Romana Con I Peperoni (chicken and sweet peppers ) is often served on Ferragosto, August 15th-the main summer holiday in Rome. In Sicily, peperonata, which is either peppers stewed with tomato, onions and mint; or peppers with olives, anchovy, garlic and capers, are both a staple side dish or antipasta found on almost every table. In Spain, the Caldereta de Lagosta (lobster soup) served in the rocky North coast features the spiny lobster, sweet peppers, tomato, garlic and parsley. The list of great pepper usage goes on, from Hungarian Paparika to ‘ Ujja bi’l-Hrus, the Tunisian summer egg dish with caraway, harissa, sweet and hot peppers, paprika and tomato. But enough of these old worlds. Let’s get to the Ohio River Valley.

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Hot wax peppers, Larry and Kim’s horribly mean  pepper guard dog, and baby cayenne peppers.

Larry and Kim Cowdery grow an amazing array of peppers. Their Cayenne, Padron, Hot Wax and Habanero  will take your head off. Poblano, Sweet Italians and Sweet Yellows exhibit a more fruity quality when fresh from these impressive fields.

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Poblanos and sweet bell peppers abound at Cowdery Farms.

When the heirloom Corno di Toro Giallo starts arriving at Cowdery Farms, I’m like the sailor on the Santa Maria screaming “Land Ho!” from the crow’s nest. It’s a signal to all that tomato season is almost over and the pepper season is in its sweetest full swing. In Italian, Corno di Toro means “The horn of the bull” because of its shape, with Giallo meaning yellow. In France it is called Poivron Corne di Taureau.

These thick-walled beauties are prized by many sweet pepper lovers. In fact in 1994, the yellow Toro was named one of the sweetest by Sunset magazine. The sweetness of a freshly diced Toro is clearly evident when eaten fresh, but when roasted, as I like it, the spicy finish engulfs the sweetness in a wave of pepper. After you blurt the obligatory “Wow,” you want another bite. The facination ends when the pepper is inside you and you look around for more.

With all the varieties of vegetables that Larry grows in these fertile Ohio River fields, he’s another Toro fanatic.

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A typical haul of peppers for my breads and pizzas. Clockwise from top left: Spicy Padron, hot yellows,  sweet  Italian, Pablano, and Cayenne. Far left: jalepeno.

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Many thanks to Larry and Kim Cowdery for giving me such wonderful pizza and bread ingredients.

Yes, finally- the recipe.

1 round of pizza dough (choose recipe)

1 Corno di Toro  pepper

3 ounces Gruyere, grated

1/2 sweet or yellow onion, sauteed in 2 tablespoons butter until transluscent

15-18 heirloom cherry tomatoes

6 anchovy filets

Prepping the pepper:

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Light grill or burner on stove on high setting. (Note: when cooking peppers on your stove, make sure you have proper ventilation, and never walk away with the pepper on the flame.) (1) Brush the pepper with olive or vegetable oil. (2) Place the pepper directly over the flame. Cooking times may vary. You are not only charring the skin for easy peeling, you are slowly cooking the pepper and causing the juices inside to boil and produce steam, which releases the sugars and spicy pepper flavors. (3) You want a pepper that’s charred like these. (4) Put the pepper in a bowl and cover with wrap.

By letting the pepper steam in the bowl for 10 to 15 minutes, it will loosen the skin even more for easy peeling.

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(1) Place the charred pepper on a cutting board. You will not need anything except your fingers for peeling if you have properly turned the pepper while cooking. It is easier to start at the top or near the stem to get a good peel and peel all the way down. (2)Peel the pepper. Using your fingers, pull the top or stem off and discard. Pull your fingers down the length of the pepper and split it in half for easier peeling. (3) Place the pepper on your hand and take the residule skin off. Turn the pepper over and scrape the seeds off. I’ve found that several quick shakes in the sink can knock lots of seeds off.

Do not rinse the pepper under running water. It kills the flavor.

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Slice the pepper into thin strips. (The above photo is the flesh from 2 peppers.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a pizza stone or upside down sheet pan in the oven to heat.

Form the pizza shell. Place on pizza screen or pizza peel.

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Sprinkle the grated Gruyere on the dough.

Agent Goon’s Top-Secret Video of cutting cherry tomatoes…

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Cut the cherry tomatoes using my secret method in the video. (Pssst this is top secret. You may show them to your friends but please kill them afterwards.) Sprinkle them on the pizza. Place sauteed onions on pizza, then (3) the peppers and anchovies.

Place in oven and cook for 7 to 15 minutes, depending upon oven. Remove when the crust is golden brown and the bottom is brown.

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