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Experiment: Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Sauce

Roasting red peppers gives them a lovely sweetness and, when stripped of skin, sliced, and marinated in olive oil, they make a delicious Italian Antipasto. Pureed, either alone or with other ingredients, roasted peppers can also make a wonderful and versatile sauce whose uses are limited only by the imagination… 

The Ingredients

You can make a simple sauce using just the peppers with just a little bit of salt and olive oil but I had a particular end use in mind that calls for a quite a bit of garlic. The ingredient list is still pretty simple though… you need:

  • Two red peppers;
  • One whole head of garlic, chopped coarsely;
  • 1 tablespoon of salt; and,
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

The Execution

 The process of roasting the peppers is not particularly difficult and the various methods you can use are outlined in an excellent article here at Squidoo.  In my opinion, the best results will be achieved outside over an open wood-fire, as the complex flavors of the smoke will only enhance the end result. Inside, charring the peppers over a gas stove – or even with a propane torch – is a good method but, since I have neither, I used the oven grill. In the past, I have had decent results by placing a wire rack over an electric stove top burner and then charring the peppers on top of this, but the oven method worked pretty well for this experiment.

To do this, I heated my oven to 550 degrees (F) and I put my halved peppers, skin side up, on a wire rack. When the oven reached the requisite temperature, I turned on the upper broiling elements and put the peppers inside at about 2 inches from them. I didn’t close the oven door all the way during the cooking process and I kept an eye on the peppers as they cooked. I have to confess that I didn’t accurately record the time it took but the peppers were in the oven for no more than ten or fifteen minutes or so, during which I moved them around so that the skin bubbled and blackened more or less evenly.

However you decide to roast the peppers, once they are done you need to remove the skins. To make this easier, you need to let them cool in their own steam by placing them in some sort of container. Many recipes advocate putting them in a paper bag, which does indeed work well, but in this case I had no paper bags and used an empty plastic bread bag instead. A bowl, covered with a plate will also achieve the same result but the whole idea is to trap the steam as the peppers cool.

Once cooled, you should be able to easily peel off the skin with your fingers. How easily this happens depends on how well the peppers have been roasted and you will likely find that there will be spots, as there are in the picture above, where the skin is not heavily cooked and will not come off with ease. In these spots, you can use the back of a knife blade to scrape the skin away. A few little bits of skin remaining is fine but too much will leave indigestible bits in the finished puree and not make for a nice smooth sauce.

When the peppers are cooling, you can prepare the garlic. Heat the oil in a small pan at medium low and then throw in the garlic pieces. Let them fry for a few minutes until you see a few of them just start to turn golden and then take them off the heat.

Once the oil and garlic has cooled, chop up the peppers and put then into a food processor along with all the oil, garlic and the salt. Process at high speed until everything has turned into a nice smooth puree. It may be necessary to add a little additional oil, depending on how much pepper flesh you have, but in this case I didn’t need any. Transfer the puree to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.

The Verdict

The taste of the finished sauce was really delicious. The garlic was cooked just enough so that it retained enough of a ‘raw’ bite to complement the sweetness of the roasted pepper. My only misgiving about this particular experiment was that the puree was a little more watery than I liked and would probably be better if the peppers were roasted just a little longer so that more liquid was thrown off before being pureed. For most uses, however, this should not be much of a problem as the sauce can easily be reduced by a minute of two in a saucepan over high heat.

The puree, even in its present state, can easily be used as the base for more complex sauces or salad dressings, but with a little thickening could be nicely adapted for dips. As I mentioned above, I had a particular use for it in mind and I will post the results of that idea in due course…

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