Last week, my high school reunion came to me.
Two friends from high school days in suburban New Jersey, along with four of their friends from now, made their way to my log house kitchen for a cooking class.
In high school, we never cooked together. In fact, I never cooked at all, except for the few months when I declared myself vegetarian and my mother informed me I could cook my own meals until I "got over it".
The menu, tagine cuisine, featured simple, straightforward, Moroccan dishes based on meat, fish, vegetables and dried fruit. The group remarked on how delicious everything tasted, and the conversation turned to spices. I explained that I replenish my spices once a year, or in the case of some I use all the time, like black pepper and cumin and cinnamon, much more frequently.
"Ah," they said. "That must be why it all tastes so good!"
That, and good juju when old friends get together in the kitchen.
Black pepper is the spice I reach for most often, more often than salt, and I go through an eight-ounce bag every few months. I keep whole black peppercorns and coarse-ground (20-30 mesh) pepper in the pantry at all times, and at the rate I use it, the ground pepper doesn't have a chance to get old.
(My high school friends haven't gotten old, either.)
What is black pepper?
The unripe, dried fruit of the Piper nigrum plant. The green fruits are washed, then dried, and in the drying process they become the dark and wrinkly peppercorns.
How/where to store:
Keep a small amount in a jar or pepper mill near the cooking area; store the rest in a plastic bag in the freezer.
More facts about black pepper, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Black pepper (Recipe: barbecued brisket)
Sun-dried tomato ketchup
Slather your very favorite burgers or sandwiches with this sweet, rich ketchup. If you have your own slow-roasted tomatoes in the freezer from last summer, they'll make this must-have condiment even more delicious. Makes 2 cups.
3 oz sun-dried tomatoes (packed dry, not in oil)
6 cups boiling water
3 fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
6 garlic cloves
1 small onion
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Place the sun-dried tomatoes in the boiling water for 2 minutes, drain, and discard all but 1/4 cup of the soaking water. Set the remaining 1/4 cup of water aside in a small bowl.
Combine the soaked sun-dried tomatoes and all of the remaining ingredients (except for the reserved soaking water) in a nonreactive saucepan, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and chunky. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.
Pour into a food processor or blender and blend until very smooth. The ketchup will be fairly thick and chunky. For a smoother ketchup, add in the reserved soaking water, and process again until smooth.
Serve the ketchup immediately or pack into a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and chill. The ketchup will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks; for longer storage, while the ketchup is still hot, pack into sterilized jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 20 minutes.
Other recipes that use black pepper:
Maple and black pepper chicken, from Andrea Meyers
Milk chocolate and black pepper ice cream, from David Lebovitz
Cheddar black pepper biscuits, from Joy the Baker
Black pepper shrimp, from Dine & Dish
Cardamom almond and black pepper chocolate pinwheel cookies, from Habeas Brulee
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.