If ever there is too short a season for a flavorful vegetable it has to be Hatch pepper season. Two to three weeks is all we get and if you’re not paying attention, you might miss the call of these extraordinary chilies. The arrival of Hatch chilies from New Mexico around mid-August is a much anticipated event in Houston. It’s when my favorite grocery stores, Central Market and H.E.B roll out the rotating cages, crank up the fires and for a few lively weeks excite our senses during the Hatch Chile Festival.
The aroma of roasting Hatches emanating from the parking lots act as a magnet to pepper lovers miles away. As if we haven’t already perspired enough through the hot and humid summer, the Hatch heat index sweats our foreheads and clears our sinuses with spice levels from mild to very hot. Live music adds to the festivities and a feeling of merriment and well-being follows! In what must be a highly lucrative operation, Central Market has included Hatch chilies in products such as sausage, guacamole, meatballs, crab cakes, tortilla chips, bread and even granola and brownies. They know a good thing when they see it!
A good char intensifies the deep rich green flesh and easily releases the thin skin. Because the Hatch’s flesh is delicate, a quick tumble in the cage over flames for only 7 –10 minutes is all it takes. I let the experts roast mine every year and purchase several pounds. They freeze well and I plan to enjoy them in soups, stews and omelets for months to come.
Hatch chilies are not a seed variety but are named after the village of Hatch in southern New Mexico around which they are farmed. Considered to be the chili capital of the world, the area exports over 250,000 chilies to Texas alone! For a recent family gathering I decided to add chopped roasted hatch peppers to scalloped potatoes. The chilies complemented the sharpness of the gruyere, and the cream…enough said!
Hatch chilies in scalloped potatoes and gruyere cheese
8 russet potatoes, peeled, sliced crosswise as thin as possible. This is a good time to use a mandoline slicer, if you own one.
4 cups whipping cream or half-and-half
5 -6 roasted Hatch chilies (spicy or mild), peeled, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
8 ounces gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Have a 9 x 13 casserole dish ready. Pour about 2 tablespoons of cream or half-and-half on the bottom of the dish and spread evenly.
Arrange potato slices evenly in a layer on the bottom of the dish. The potatoes should be touching but not overlapping each other. Sprinkle about 1 – 2 tablespoons of chilies on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle about ¼ cup of gruyere cheese on top of the chilies and potatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour about ½ cup of cream or half-and-half over cheese.
Continue layering potatoes, chilies, cheese, salt, pepper and cream. End with a layer of potatoes and then gruyere cheese. Pour the rest of the cream over the potatoes.
Heat oven to 400ºF. Cover the potatoes with foil. Bake for 1 hour.
After an hour, remove the foil. Bake for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft when pricked with a fork, the cream is set and the top is nicely browned.
Remove from the oven and allow potatoes to rest for about 10 minutes.