Singapore Cooks

Cooking from scratch: stuffed roast peppers with a sundried tomato and nduja beef filling

Amit Patel does not believe in taking short cuts when preparing food

Despite their long working hours, Mr Amit Patel and his wife are one of those rare working couples who make it a point to cook dinner from scratch most nights of the week.

On weeknights, they aim for quick and healthy meals with a strong focus on vegetables - vegetable kebabs, roast veggies and salads - while weekends are reserved for more elaborate dishes that sometimes involve a full day of preparation and cooking.

Mr Patel, 36, a regional sales director, and his wife, a 34-year-old group training manager, host dinner parties about twice a month. He will cook dishes such as 72-hour sous vide beef short rib, which he finishes with a Searzall - a large gas blowtorch attachment for serious cooks that can sear items at 1,982 deg C.

Recently, the London-born Singapore permanent resident, who moved to Singapore in 2009, even made the quintessential British dish of fish and chips from scratch. His version involves soaking sliced potatoes for two hours and changing the water every hour - the process helps remove excess starch from the potatoes - and making tartar sauce by hand.

He can also whip up gratinated roasted peppers, stuffed with ground beef cooked with sundried tomatoes and nduja (a spicy salumi paste). He shares the recipe in this column.

Using a santoku knife which was bought on the couple's honeymoon in Osaka, Japan, about two years ago, Mr Patel deftly prepares the ingredients.

  • GRATINATED ROASTED BELL PEPPERS STUFFED WITH A SUNDRIED TOMATO AND NDUJA BEEF FILLING

  • INGREDIENTS

    450g lean minced beef

    11/2Tbs olive oil

    1 yellow onion, about 110g, diced

    4 cloves garlic, about 40g, finely chopped

    80g tomato paste

    One 411g can of diced tomatoes, undrained

    1 tsp sea salt

    1 tsp dried mixed Italian herbs, available at supermarkets

    2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

    5 sprigs of fresh thyme

    1/2 tsp ground black pepper

    1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

    3Tbs chopped sundried tomatoes

    3 Tbs nduja, a spreadable pork salumi paste available at speciality grocers and eateries such as &Sons

    4 large red, yellow or orange bell peppers, about 250g each

    11/2 cups shredded mozzarella

    4 Tbs cottage cheese

    4 Tbs cream cheese

  • METHOD

    1. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the beef. Fry and break apart using a wooden spatula. Add the diced onion and continue to stir-fry until the beef is cooked through and no longer pink.

    2. Add the chopped garlic. Cook for another minute.

    3. Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, salt, dried and fresh herbs, black pepper, crushed red pepper, chopped sundried tomatoes and nduja. Mix well and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. The mixture should be very thick, but add some water if you want to thin it down.

    4. Preheat the oven to 190 deg C.

    5. While the beef filling is simmering, prepare the bell peppers. Lop off the top of each of the peppers and remove the seeds and core.

    6. Stand the peppers in an oven-proof dish. Spoon 1 Tbs of cottage cheese into each bell pepper and spread evenly around the cavity.

    7. Divide the beef mixture into four parts. Fill each bell pepper with the beef. Set aside any leftover beef mixture to be served with the roasted peppers later.

    8. Cover the stuffed bell peppers with a sheet of aluminium foil to prevent them from burning. Roast in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes until the peppers begin to blister.

    9. Remove the dish from the oven and uncover the peppers. Add 1 Tbs of cream cheese to each of the bell peppers, then sprinkle liberally with shredded mozzarella.

    10. Put the dish back in the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted and a golden brown crust has formed.

    11. Serve immediately. Spoon any additional beef mixture onto each plate.

  • Makes four servings.

    Note: Substitute nduja with mashed chorizo or other types of Italian sausage. You can also use mascarpone in place of cream cheese.

His acacia wood chopping board, a gift from his wife in their first year of dating, is engraved with his name.

While removing the seeds from the bell peppers, he says: "You know, when I was a child, I thought all families made food from scratch. I thought it was normal."

When he was growing up, the youngest of three children born to a housewife and retail entrepreneur would do his homework in the kitchen. There, he would watch his mother prepare Indian fare, such as chapati and curries, from scratch.

She would sun-dry spices and chillies in the garden, and he recalls having to be careful not to trample on them when playing football.

Those early encounters with cooking and exposure to food instilled in him a philosophy that everything ought to be made from scratch, without short cuts.

He says: "I believe in working with natural ingredients versus buying a bottle of pasta sauce, for example."

He started cooking when he was a teenager, learning to sear steaks and cook chicken and, later, beef Bolognese sauce, at home.

Of course, his repertoire of dishes has expanded greatly since then.

Dishes he cooked for his wife when they started dating include breaded salmon cakes and prawns atop crisp potato rounds served with a dollop with guacamole.

His roast potatoes are also a hit with friends and family.

Open about his cooking methods, he says he first par-boils the potatoes, then drains, smashes and tosses them in olive oil and ground turmeric before roasting them in a hot oven until they crisp up.

The couple, who are passionate about food and dining, take pride in trying new recipes all the time.

He says: "Cooking is about trial and error, there is no right or wrong. There are never-ending possibilities with food."

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'Cooking from scratch'. Print Edition | Subscribe