Friday, March 20, 2015

Spicy Pepperonata Sauce

One of the main problems with many food blogs (including myself sometimes!) is that the recipes they post look sooooo delicious - like YUM - and they claim to be super easy...but they're seriously asking you to buy 15 ingredients??  I know, guilty as charged!  I do it too.  I promise that I really don't intend to, but my kitchen is always fully stocked so I forget that people who don't cook regularly, or only stick to a few basic recipes, probably don't have the 8 spices that I'm asking you to add in 1/2 tsp. quantities (oh hi, Garlic Rosemary Beef Stew).  I'm challenging myself to come up with more recipes that have very basic ingredients, with most of them being spices you should always have on hand if you're planning to make any entree, soup or appetizer on this blog: oregano, basil, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and, obviously, salt and pepper.  I invented this little recipe for Spicy Pepperonata Sauce on the fly last night, taking inspiration from my cooking class at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking earlier this winter.  It definitely ups the flavor - and heat - of your standard red pasta sauce!

I started by chopping up about 1/2 large red bell pepper, 1/2 large green bell pepper and 1/2 medium white onion in long strips.  I like this shape because they're definitely the star ingredients of the recipe, and cutting them like this lets them stand out in the sauce.  After I chopped everything, I heated 1-1/2 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Once it was sizzling hot, I threw in the veggies and lightly seasoned them with salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano and red pepper flakes.  No fancy measurements here, just a little sprinkle on top!  We're definitely going to add more (measured) spices later to up the heat, but I season at every stage of the cooking process so all the ingredients can reach their maximum flavor potential.  It's super important to do this!

After the veggies got a chance to sweat out for about 10 minutes (look for a slight caramel color on the skins of the peppers and onions), I turned the heat down to medium-low and added 1 tbsp. of water to the pan.  It sounds kinda weird, I know.  Doesn't adding water mean you're diluting the flavor?  NOPE.  Because after I added the water, I put a lid on top of the pan so the peppers can soften with the steam!  Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely an advocate for using the natural crunchiness of peppers to add texture to a recipe, but this sauce should melt in your mouth!  And it will.

On a side note: start boiling your pasta water right about now!

After the peppers onions steamed for 5 minutes, I poured in a can of fire roasted diced tomatoes.  Yes, this new discovery will become a staple in my kitchen.  The tomatoes are actually charred before they're diced, which adds TONS of flavor that you can't normally get from regular tomatoes.  You can even see little black char marks on some of them!  I love it!  I used the Muir Glen Organic Fire Roasted Tomatoes from Costco, but grocery stores are starting to carry them too.  Definitely be on the lookout!  Along with the tomatoes, I added 1/2 tsp. sugar (to cut the acidity of the tomatoes) and then added a generous amount of salt, a dash of black pepper, 1/2 tsp. oregano, 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, and a heaping 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes.  If you're super into spicy foods, add 1/2 tsp.  I'm still a little bit of a wimp!  But getting better...

Let the sauce cook for 10-15 minutes over medium low, stirring occasionally.  Definitely taste it one more time towards the end of the 10-15 minutes, because mine needed a little extra salt; feel free to add more of other spices if you think it needs it, especially if you substituted regular diced tomatoes for the fire roasted.  When you test the spices, also add in 1 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese and 1 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, and let it cook in for about 2 more minutes.  You're kitchen should smell ahhhmazinggg at this point!

I garnished my pasta with more grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil because this might be my most favorite flavor combination in the whole wide world.  I blame it on my 4 months of living in Italy.  I was spoiled rotten with the ingredients over there!  But seriously, it's SO good.  I love using the leaves of herbs as a garnish because it adds this freshness to the dish that you can't get from cooking alone.  Not to mention that the bold pop of color makes your pasta look really special - almost like a restaurant - which is a win-win in my books!  Now dig in!

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