Get (Your Food) Into Shape

Using Unique Food Molds

Food molds. The very words conjure up images of perfectly pressed circular rice topped with a colorful mélange of roasted peppers and caramelized onions and two fresh chive shoots. The precision shape exudes culinary mastery. It’s also not very creative. Anyone can press sticky rice into a mold and achieve the same attractive results. But what if we want to appeal to more organic shape, a fluid shape that helps define a more playful attitude towards presentation. And how about making the shaper itself, edible.

The bell pepper is the perfect food for the job. Ripening to hues of yellow, orange and red, and even purple and chocolate, it certainly brings color to the plate. With the stem attached, its silhouette is universally recognizable. And with its mild flavor, it can compliment almost any food you can think to fit inside its fleshy outline. From rice to pasta salads and beyond, the bell pepper is the new circle.

What food you plan to shape with the bell pepper will determine what size you should use. A rice dish would be perfectly suited to a small pepper, while the pasta and asparagus tip salad featured below would benefit from a much larger specimen. For any use, bell peppers with thicker flesh and an intact stem are needed. Color is also important. Dark purple peppers and chocolate varieties would be best used with light or white fillings, whereas salads that include dark green ingredients would benefit from yellow, orange or red peppers. But you need to consider the entire presentation. Will your purple pepper compliment or clash with the other food elements on your plate?

We also need to consider the proper preparation of the bell pepper. While it can be eaten raw, roasting or grilling the pepper flesh will both soften the texture and add flavor complexity. But again, keep in mind what you are using the pepper for. Roasting the pepper in the oven will help to develop the sweeter flavor without adding the charred flavors achieved during fire roasting or grilling. For our purposes below, grilling the pepper forms adds the perfect smoky compliment to this salad.

Uncover your grill and sharpen your knife for this deliciously playful salad of asparagus tips and penné with a lemon vinaigrette nested in an edible bell pepper mold.

Asparagus Tips and Penné

  • ½ pound mezze penné or other small pasta
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus additional
  • 1 bunch young asparagus
  • juice of one lemon, or ¼ cup
  • grated lemon zest from one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bell pepper pieces left over from the mold
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 large red or orange bell pepper with stem for each plate, washed

Carefully slice off the opposite sides of each bell pepper, leaving the stem and about an inch thick bell pepper silhouette. Carefully slice the seed pod off the stem bottom making sure to keep the pepper shape whole. Set the form aside. Remove the seeds and ribs from the cut sides of the pepper. Grill or roast the pepper sides, skin side down until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove any charred skin. Dice the pepper sides and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl. Dry roast the pine nuts in a non-stick skillet until they begin to turn brown and start to sizzle. Do not burn. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain and rinse with cold water. Drain completely and add the pasta to the diced pepper, tossing to coat with olive oil. Refrigerate.

Rinse the asparagus and break each stem into inch-long pieces, discarding the bottom inch or two. Blanch the asparagus in boiling water for 3 minutes or until it turns bright green and softens just a bit. Immediately immerse the asparagus in ice water and let it completely cool. Drain completely and add to the pasta and peppers.

In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper together along with the ¼ cup of olive oil. Toss the pasta mixture with the pine nuts and dressing.

Grill the bell pepper forms for about 4 minutes a side on a medium hot grill. Carefully position the forms on each plate and fill with the asparagus salad.