An open letter to Mezzetta’s:
Hi there, Foodie here. Listen, about those jarred red bell peppers. I’ve been meaning to tell you this: well, they…they kind of suck. Wait, hear me out! I know you go to great lengths to ensure a quality product – and I love the hell out of those garlic stuffed olives you’ve got – but I have to be honest here. When you soak a roasted bell pepper in salt water, cram it in a jar, and ship it across the country only to sit on a store shelf for the better part of a year, it loses a lot of its oomph. I mean, this cannot surprise you, right? The flesh goes all weird and mushy, the smoky flavor all but disappears, and then – AND THEN! – I’ve got to pay upwards of $5 for a jar of mediocre product. I’m sorry, Mezzetta’s, but I’m going rogue and making my own roasted red bell peppers. Sure, it’s a bit of a pain, but nothing that a glass of sauv blanc and some Otis Redding can’t cure. I hope you understand.
So, here we are. Lucky for me, our neighborhood grocery store was having a sale on red bell peppers, so I stocked up. On my way home, I swung by the library and picked up a copy of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Deborah Madison‘s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Why vegetarian, you ask? Hubs and I just watched Forks over Knives and were scared $*!%less by the statistics. We’re going vegetarian for a month to see if we will actually shrivel up and die due to lack of chicken, beef and pork. Interested? Check it out for yourself. Annoyed? Keep your opinions to yourself, missy miss.
Of all the fantastic recipes (which are divvied up by ingredient – love!), the one that was calling to me most on a recent snow day was Peperonata. The book says, “In this Italian dish, the peppers are stewed with fresh tomatoes until soft, rather than seared. The resulting dish is tender and juicy, but it can be used the same ways as sautéed peppers.” Hmm. Interesting. Not that I’m dying to eat a bowl of stewed peppers and tomatoes, but I think I can work with this idea.
It’s a no-brainer that red bell peppers and tomatoes – when combined with just the right ingredients and in just the right way – can make one heck of a sauce. In keeping with the sauce route, I decided to make DM’s Peperonata into a pasta sauce, and serve it up on one of my personal faves, orecchiette (a/k/a “little ears”).
I began by roasting the peppers under the broiler, to impart a deep, smoky flavor (and to test out the functionality of my smoke detectors), and combining them with some other classics: sautéed onion, garlic, thyme, oregano, a little white wine, and tomatoes. Once they had time to get to know each other in the saucepan, the whole shebang was whirred together by my handy dandy immersion blender. The results? A thick, delicious sauce that’s part pepper, part tomato, and all love. Enjoy!
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(adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
3 red bell peppers, halved, seeded and ribbed
1 small onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 c. white wine
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 Tbs. butter
red pepper, salt & pepper, olive oil
Turn on your oven’s broiler. Place the bell pepper halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet and place under the broiler until blistered and blackened, about 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the oven, place in a large mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Once the peppers have cooled, peel off the skin and set them aside.
In a large saucepan, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened and beginning to brown. While the onions are cooking, slice the peeled roasted peppers into 1/2″ strips.
Add the garlic, thyme and oregano to the sautéed onion, and cook for a minute longer. Pour in the white wine and increase the heat to high. Once most of the wine has cooked off, add the sliced roasted peppers and the can of diced tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Pour the sauce into a large mixing bowl and using a hand blender, puree the sauce until it’s smooth and thick. (This can also be done in a food processor.) Return the pureed sauce to the saucepan and over medium heat, bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and add the butter. Serve over your favorite pasta or spaghetti squash.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville, but has recently moved to Boulder, Colorado. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more from Laura, see her past stories, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook or check out Prana & Pie.