Roasted Red Peppers that have been marinated in olive oil make a lovely Italian Antipasto style Appetizer but they are great to have on hand for a variety of other uses. They can be added to a whole variety of more complex hot and cold dishes, are fantastic when pureed for sauces and condiments, make great garnishes when sliced or dices attractively, and, on a more pedestrian level, go great on sandwiches and wraps.
You can buy some fairly decent pre-made varieties in jars, or occasionally in bulk from the deli section of the supermarket, but they are easy enough to prepare at home and the results are far better…
Choosing Peppers for Roasting
Obviously, you want to select good quality red peppers for any use in which they are the focus. Ideally, the flesh will already be nicely sweet even before grilling or roasting, and you can best ensure this by selecting those that are firm all over and have a really vibrant red coloring.
Many people roast peppers in the oven, in which case the shape is not quite as important, but I prefer mine charred over an open flame. For that technique, peppers with a ‘squarish’ shape, like the ones pictured above, are much simpler to handle as they can be easily cooked on all sides.
The Cooking Process
I always brush my peppers with a thin film of oil and put them on the grill over a high flame. They need to be grilled on all fours ‘sides’ and then the bottom and top ends as well. The length of the time on each side will depend on the grill temperature and the degree of ‘doneness’ you desire, but I find that somewhere between 3 to 5 minutes per side is about right.
You can, of course, oven roast your peppers, much as you can ‘roast’ food using a barbecue by using indirect heat and keeping the cover closed. Again, you would want to brush the peppers in oil and keep a weather eye on them as they cook. If you do not have suitable racks to put them on, it would be advisable to turn them frequently to avoid overcooking by contact. About 500 degrees or so will generally suffice, and, if you have a decent broiler element, so much the better.
Basically, the peppers are cooked just right for me when you see the skin just begin to crinkle and loosen itself away from the flesh beneath. There will be some dark spots at this point, but only here and there…
Some people like to almost completely blacken the exterior of the pepper. This gives it a particular flavor that many people enjoy but I prefer to cook only until the flesh is just starting to soften. The result is a little harder to peel but I like the sprightly color and flavor that you get when the pepper is not too well done.
Peeling Roasted Red Peppers
When the peppers are cooked to your liking, remove them from the heat and pop them into a heavy-duty plastic bag. The idea here is to let them sweat to further loosen the skins as they cool. You can leave them just until the temperature drops enough to make the peppers easy to handle or, if you prefer, pop them into the fridge and leave them over night.
If you like, you can peel the peppers while they are whole. As you can see, when the peppers are only lightly grilled or roasted, they retain their basic shape quite well. Those roasted more thoroughly, on the other hand, tend to become a bit ‘floppy’ and saggy (although the skin can sometimes just slip right off in one or two pieces).
Cutting the peppers into sections before peeling is sometimes a bit easier. Often, you can just grab an edge of the skin and peel it away but, if it is a bit stubborn, scraping gently with the edge of a knife blade will generally do the trick.
Storing and Using Roasted Red Peppers
Roasted red pepper flesh freezes quite well. Simply keep the individual pieces separate from each other, enclose in cling wrap and then pop into the freezer.
I like keeping the peppers in the refrigerator in oil. You can use plain vegetable oil, or good quality olive oil, but here I have used some of my own home-made Garlic Oil. If you are going to be keeping any under oil for more than 5 or 6 days then it is advisable to add some salt as well. About 1/3 of a teaspoon sprinkled over each whole pepper is about right.
In the above picture, the pieces in the small round container are the irregular bits from the ends of the peppers and are probably destined for sauces or other preparations where the flesh would be diced or chopped finely.
The ‘side’ pieces are intentionally kept as large as possible so on has maximum flexibility when it comes to cutting them up later. I have plenty to work with here (and will use quite a bit from this batch in various recipes). Some, however, will be eaten pretty much as is, along with some crusty fresh bread, and maybe a slice or two of Prosciutto.