It's Now or Never

It's the time of the year to bottle up summer in a jar. Grab the first bushel of luscious, ripe, red peppers you can get your hands on folks! The spirit of summer can well be preserved in a jar of thick tomato sauce, but roasting a tray of red peppers will also preserve summer without taking too much of your time. Although you can buy roasted peppers, they are easy to make, and the flavour will definitely be better. Any pepper can be roasted, including chilli peppers, but do try to avoid green peppers, as roasting them will intensify their bitterness instead of enhancing their non-existent sweetness.

Roasted Peppers

Ripe bell peppers
vegetable oil, for cooking
olive oil, for preserving
1 peeled garlic clove for each pepper, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 250 °C/500°F.
Line a baking tray with foil, and pile on the peppers. 
If using garlic, cut a slit into each pepper, and stuff with a clove.
Drizzle with oil.
When the oven is nice and hot, turn on the upper grill, and place the tray of peppers just above the middle of your oven.
Roast until the peppers become charred and begin to blister, about 5 minutes. 
Using tongs, turn the peppers over, and roast until they are more or less blackened on all sides. It will take about 25 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the peppers to a heat-proof bowl, and cover with cling film or a lid. 
Set aside until the peppers are completely cooled.
Once cooled, the charred skin should slip off easily. Discard the tail and the seeds. 
Keep the garlic cloves.

The peppers will keep in a jar, covered with olive oil, for at least two weeks. However, for long term preservation, it is best to freeze the peppers. To really extend the summer warmth, try the following recipes: Romesco sauce, or a luscious mayonnaise. For something less ordinary, whip up a batch of Muhammara, a regular on North African and Middle Eastern mezze platters. You might have met it under different guises -and with a different name- all over the Mediterranean. In fact, the Spanish Romesco may well be a descendant of the Moors' muhammara...

Yields about 250ml/1 cup

6 roasted red peppers
3 cloves of garlic, roasted if possible
100g/1 cup shelled walnuts
1 dried chili
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 Tbs pomegranate molasses, optional
2 Tbs bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste 
olive oil

In a dry pan, toast the spices individually until they are fragrant. The seeds should be a few shades darker, and the chili should be pliable (no longer brittle). Grind the spices in a mortar or a food processor.
Add the garlic, and reduce to a paste. The walnuts are added next, and roughly crushed.
Roughly chop the peppers. Mix in with the other ingredients, and reduce to a chunky purée.
Season with salt, pepper and the pomegranate molasses, if using.
Add just enough breadcrumbs to make a sturdy, but not overly stiff, mix.
Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Serve muhammara with fresh or crisp pita wedges, along with some babaghanouj, hummus and perhaps a sprinkle of dukkah. Muhammara is lovely instead of tomatoes on pasta or a pizza base, and is wonderful dolloped over new potatoes -instant potato salad! It will keep for about a week in the fridge, or 3 months in the freezer. If the breadcrumbs are an issue, add a few more handfuls of walnuts to keep the muhammara nice and thick. Although the pomegranate molasses is not an essential ingredient to this recipe, it does lend a pleasing sweet-tartness, but it can be left out if sourcing is difficult.

Bon app'!


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