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What Do These Peppers Look Like to You?

OK, let’s play that game where you gaze up at the clouds and ponder what images come to mind.

See those peppers above?

I look at them and see the red tongue logo made famous by the Rolling Stones.

That’s just me, though.

What do they bring to mind for you?

With a deep lipstick-red hue and a glossy look, Spanish piquillo peppers are definitely striking looking. They’re also wonderful to have on hand for quick appetizers or colorful additions to main courses. Stuff them with cheese, then grill or saute them until melted. Serve alongside crusty bread. Roast them with shrimp or fish. Or add them to a big pan of paella.

You’ll find them at gourmet grocery stores in cans or jars. They’re a godsend to have around in the pantry.

After all, with these tender, slippery peppers, you can make “Oven-Baked Chicken with Spanish Peppers” from “Lobel’s Meat Bible” (Chronicle Books) by Stanley, Evan, Mark, and David Lobel. You probably know the Lobel name from the high-caliber artisan meats the family has sold at its New York store for generations.

The dish has subtle flavors, letting the piquillo peppers really star.  Chicken thighs are cooked with an vibrant puree of piquillo peppers, onion, saffron, garlic, paprika, and a slice of toast that’s been soaked in white wine. The chicken cooks in the oven, and just before it’s done, more strips of piquillo peppers are strewn over the entire dish.

The chicken cooks up incredibly succulent. The piquillo peppers lend a pretty accent, as well as a pleasing smoky-sweetness.

When I look at piquillo peppers, what do I see?

Plain delicioso.

Oven-Baked Chicken with Spanish Peppers

(serves 4)

Small roasted potatoes make a great side dish.

50 saffron threads (about 2 large pinches)

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 slice of crustless country-style bread, 3 by 5 by 3/4 inches thick

3 to 3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, each thigh cut in half across the bone to yield 16 to 20 pieces

Kosher salt

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

10 ounces jarred roasted piquillo pepper, drained, 8 ounces quartered into lengthwise strips

3 large garlic cloves, sliced

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 bay leaves

Place saffron in a small dry skillet over medium heat. Toast for about 1 minute, shaking pan to avoid burning. Remove and let cool. Crumble saffron threads with dry fingertips back into the pan; add 1/4 cup warm water and set aside.

Warm the oil in a large, heavy pot or straight-sided skillet over medium-low heat. Add bread and cook gently until toasted and colored a rich golden brown on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from pot and reserve.

Salt the chicken generously on both sides. Add enough oil to equal 3 tablespoons, if needed, and increase heat to medium-high. Cook chicken in two batches until golden brown on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer to a 9-by-12-inch ceramic or glass baking dish, skin-side up, and reserve. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Pour off all but 3 tablespoons fat in the pot and return it to medium-low heat. Add onion and cook until soft but not browned, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer gently for 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Turn off heat and reserve the pot.

Dip both sides of the reserved toast into the wine in the pot until softened. Place toast in bowl of a food processor, breaking it into chunks. Add 2 ounces whole piquillo peppers and the garlic to the food processor, and process to a coarse paste, 10 to 20 seconds, pausing midway to scrape down sides of the bowl. Add paprika, the reserved saffron water, and the chicken stock. Process briefly to incorporate.

Stir the pepper-broth mixture into the onions in the pot. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and pour mixture evenly over and around the chicken. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Uncover the baking dish and cook for 1 hour more, basting the exposed meat every so often.

Remove casserole from oven and distribute the piquillo pepper strips all over the casserole, tucking them in between the chicken and partly below the surface of the liquid. Return to oven and bake for 10 to 20 minutes more, or until liquid has thickened somewhat and reduced to at least halfway down the sides of the chicken pieces. Cook additionally, if necessary. Turn off oven and let chicken rest in the oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes, allowing sauce to thicken further. Sprinkle with remaining parsley. Divide chicken and peppers among plates, spooning sauce over each serving.

From “Lobel’s Meat Bible”