For this week's underappreciated ingredient, you will need to dig a bit deeper into your grocer's Hispanic section. Your goal? Mexico's gift to high-flavour cooking — chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.
Typically sold in 199-gram (7-ounce) cans, these not entirely attractive (truth is, they look a bit prune-like) peppers pack gobs of smoky, chocolaty, slightly sweet piquancy.
First, the basics. Chipotles are really just jalapeno peppers that have been dried and smoked. In the U.S., they most often are sold canned in adobo sauce, a smooth tomato-vinegar blend spiked with garlic, onion and various spices.
The result is that you essentially get two ingredients in each can: peppers and sauce. The peppers marinate in the adobo, taking on its sweet tang. Meanwhile, the sauce absorbs some of the peppers' heat.
But you don't need to be a heat fiend to appreciate these flavour bombs. Jalapenos are hardly the most intense chili around. Still, most people will find that one to two is plenty for most dishes.
Some people suggest you can moderate the heat by slicing the chipotles open and scraping out the seeds, much as you would with fresh jalapenos. That's way too much trouble for me. I'd rather just use less. Or use just the sauce.
One can is likely to last you a while. Though leftovers can be refrigerated for a couple weeks, your best bet is to divide the peppers and sauce into an ice cube tray, then freeze for easy use whenever.
Not surprisingly, chipotles in adobo sauce are wonderful in Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. Chop them and mix them into shredded cheese for topping nachos. Dice or puree a few to crank up the heat of your favourite chili. Marinate beef strips in the sauce for tacos. Dice them and add to salsa (no cranberries, please).
For more ideas for using chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/mw41sx
Chipotle Barbecue Porky Pappardelle
Start to finish: 30 minutes
340 g (12 oz) pappardelle pasta
7 ml (1/2 tbsp) olive oil
250 ml (1 cup) prepared barbecue sauce
1 chipotle in adobo sauce
5 ml (1 tsp) adobo sauce
5 ml (1 tsp) lime juice
500 g (1 lb) pork loin cutlets (or other lean cut of pork)
15 ml (1 tbsp) canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
Sour cream, to serve
Chopped fresh chives, for garnish
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, return to pot, drizzle with olive oil, then toss and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine barbecue sauce, chipotle, adobo sauce and lime juice. Process until smooth. Add pork, then pulse until well chopped, but not ground. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat canola oil. Add onion and pepper and saute for 6 minutes. Add pork mixture and simmer until pork is cooked through and sauce thickens, about 6 minutes.
Serve pork over pasta. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 670 calories; 130 calories from fat (20 per cent of total calories); 14 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 95 mg cholesterol; 95 g carbohydrate; 37 g protein; 4 g fibre; 880 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is author of the recent cookbook, "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." His Off the Beaten Aisle column also appears at FoodNetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch.