Recipe: Blackened Chilli, Buffalo Mozzarella & Lemon Crème Fraiche

This is what I know about passion: In passion there is honesty. Because passion can’t be fabricated. A passion is something that you love because you can’t not. You don’t find a passion, it finds you. But most importantly, a passion is something that compels action. As Jean-Paul Satre once said, ‘we must act out passion, before we can feel it.’

In life, and in food, I am somewhat a slave to passion. Growing up, I loved words and spent all my spare time reading Enid Blyton books, and later, Jane Austen (often on repeat). I would memorise my favourite passages and perhaps write them down in one of my many notebooks just to see my awe-struck hands write these hallowed words. My love of words has been my raison d’etre for most of my life – until I started cooking.

For me, my passion for food is not, strangely, about the eating. Rather, it is unequivocally all about cooking for others, the feeling of fullness that comes from sharing food and feeding the people you love. This is what drove me to cook for my community – this gratuitous need to feed people and to nurture through food. This is a passion that I hope I never lose.

In food, I find new passions everyday. But an ingredient that I have always loved is chilli. To me, chilli is almost the embodiment of passion; with its intense colour, fiery nature and angry flavour. In many dishes, chilli is the deal breaker, the difference between bad and good.

This salad takes a no-holds-barred approach to chilli, using this vibrant nightshade as a main ingredient. Here, I’ve charred the chilli, much as you would a capsicum, and then stripped away the hot membrane and the seeds to leave an unexpectedly mellow fruit. The creamy buffalo mozzarella and smooth lemony crème fraiche harmoniously counterbalance the chilli’s feistiness. If you wish, substitute the buffalo mozzarella with bocconcini, fior di latte, burrata or even chucks of ricotta.

BLACKENED CHILLI WITH BUFFALO MOZZARELLA AND LEMON CRÈME FRAICHE

Serves 4

Salad

  • 3-4 long red chillis
  • 400g buffalo mozzarella (or bocconcini)
  • 4 roma tomatoes, very thinly sliced into rounds
  • 2 cups (tightly packed) baby rocket leaves
  • ½ cup (tightly packed) basil leaves, roughly torn
  • ½ cup capers, rinsed
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Lemon crème fraiche

  • 4 tbsp crème fraiche
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Start by blackening the chillis. I do this on the naked flame of a gas hob, but you can also place it on a barbecue or under a hot grill. Whichever cooking method you choose, you need to char the skin of the chilli until it is all black and the flesh has softened. Turn the chilli often as the skin will blacken quite quickly. When ready, allow to cool. Wearing gloves, gently rub the blackened skin off the chilli flesh. Rinse under water to remove the charred skin and pat dry with a paper towel.

Split each chilli in half and carefully scrape off all the seeds and membrane and discard. Cut the chilli into thin strips.

To make the lemon crème fraiche, combine all the ingredient and stir together. Adjust amount of lemon juice according to your preference.

On a serving plate, scatter over the rocket leaves. Slice or tear the buffalo mozzarella and arrange on top of the rocket. Tuck the thinly sliced tomato in and around the mozzarella, followed by a scattering of basil leaves, capers and the chilli strips. Dollop the lemon crème fraiche over the top, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a good sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Hetty’s cookbook Community, Salad Recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen (published by Plum Books/Pan Macmillan $35) features 60 flavour-packed salad recipes and is available from bookstores nationally.