Right now I’m reading The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute by Michael Ruhlman. First published nearly a decade ago (I picked it up recently at a used bookstore in Maine), it’s the story of how Ruhlman, a journalist, fared at the CIA—he enrolled intending to write the book, so he wasn’t exactly there to become a chef, but that makes his account all the more fascinating. Because our enjoyment (and a virtual education while looking over his shoulder) is his goal, it’s a more lively read than it might otherwise have been. I’m about 100 pages in, and so far he’s taken me through the most basic building-block segments of the course—knife skills, stock, sauce. There’s a lot of talk about mother sauces: they’re the foundations, the recipes that, though they might be very good on their own, become baseline ingredients for other, even better sauces.
While I don’t spend a lot of time making sauces, I consider roasted bell peppers to be a mother recipe—make a big batch and see how many different uses you’ll find. The simple sweetness of them, stowed in the fridge with a splash of vinegar, some olive oil, a slivered clove of garlic, and some roughly torn herbs, livens up any number of dishes:
- Tossed into a salad
- Chopped fine and stirred into drained ricotta cheese, for a dip (or a filling for lasagna or homemade ravioli)
- Tangled atop crisped, oiled slices of Italian bread for a super-fast antipasto
- Combined with olives, capers, and roasted eggplant for a slightly fancier antipasto
- Added at the last minute to a quick pasta sauce (or mix some in with your favorite jarred brand)
- Spooned atop simply grilled fish or chicken breast
- Scattered onto a pizza
- Minced and mixed into meatloaf or burgers
- Sautéed with onions, then piled atop grilled Italian sausages
- Layered inside your favorite sandwich (I like them with turkey pastrami, of all things)
Well, you get the idea. The thing about roasted peppers is, they’re shockingly easy to do. Sure, you’ll get your hands dirty peeling them, but as far as the actual cooking goes they’re virtually foolproof. I mean, c’mon, the whole point is to burn the skins! Pretty hard to mess that up, you know? And when you’re done, you can lay out a plate as pretty as this and accept the oohs and ahhs of an impressed audience, as if you’ve really done something amazing. And truth be told, you have.
Marinated Roasted Peppers
Serves anywhere from 2 to 20, depending on how many you make and how you use them
Bell peppers—red, yellow, orange, green [though personally, I’m not too fond of the green ones, hence their obvious absence from my platter]
1 clove garlic, slivered
Vinegar of your choice [I used balsamic, but you could use virtually anything that’s not too harshly acidic]
Fresh herb of your choice [I used basil this time, but thyme, oregano, and parsley also work beautifully]
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Turn on the broiler.
Line a jelly roll pan (or rimmed cookie sheet) with aluminum foil. Cut peppers in half and remove core, seeds, and membrane. Place peppers cut side down on the prepared pan and place as close to the fire as possible. Let them broil 5-10 minutes, until the skins are blistered and blackened—you may have to move them around a bit to expose all the sides. Remove from the broiler and put in a bowl; cover tightly with saran wrap or aluminum foil—the idea is to steam off the skins.
When they’re cool enough to handle, peel them one at a time over a bowl that has an air-tight lid—do it over the bowl to catch any juices. Slice the peeled halves and add them to the bowl. Add remaining ingredients, stir, and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to several days.