I got an e-mail from my cousin.
She was requesting a recipe for a dip that I made for her bridal shower last year. In addition, she asked if I had a good “Roasted Red Pepper Marinara” recipe.
Hold the phone.
“Should I?” I wondered. Weird feelings of inferiority began to set in…because I didn’t. But, the thought set the wheels in motion. “I do love roasted peppers…and they would add a nice sweet element to a marinara sauce…but, it’s summer. I’m thinking grilling, rather than roasting”
Yeah, that’s it! That’s the ticket!
Of course! It makes perfect sense…summer; bumper crops of produce; grilling…delicious!
I ran over to my local farmstand and picked up some beautiful, fresh tomatoes and red peppers, brought them home, washed and cut them up and started grilling!
(On a side note, I also discovered that my favorite little stand from years past does not seem to be operating this year. This place was (is?) adorable. A little stand right in the person’s driveway with fresh homegrown produce harvested daily…and the very best sweet corn, I might add. The most adorable part, though? It was strictly on the honor system! Don’t you just love that?!? Me too! And now, sadly, it seems to be no more… I am grieving.)
If you are familiar with this blog, you probably know that I am a big fan of simple, but delicious food. I love using straightforward ingredients and blending flavors to get something that doesn’t need to be fussy. There is a place for complicated food (sometimes), it just usually is not in my kitchen. There are also times when things are overly thought over and ruined. I love creativity on a chef’s part, but sometimes it is just too much; too overwhelming to the senses and the palette. I would rather have something with a few ingredients whose flavors play off and complement one another, and make me think, “Wow! Who knew (blank) could taste like this?” For me, such is the case with this sauce. It is smoky and slighty sweet with just a very faint hint of heat. It has some depth from a little bit of Pecorino Romano and is brought together by freshness by the basil. In other words: uncluttered, classic, and absolutely delectable.
This sauce starts off with getting your grill fired up, (I do have a little bias about grilling – charcoal – there is nothing like the smoky flavor that it provides.) wash and cut up your vegetables – tomatoes, red peppers, sweet onion, and jalapeno. Make a little garlic oil on the stove to brush on to your vegetables, make those babies look browned, blistered, and beautiful on the grill – and voila!- you are practically there! Blend it up, add your basil and cheese, adjust with a bit of salt and pepper and dinner is ready! Oh yeah, cook some pasta sometime in between there; and throw together a salad. There you go…DINNER!
The tomatoes get cored, seeded, and cut crosswise. To seed, just hold them over a bowl or a sink and poke a finger into the little pockets. The seeds and liquid will come out. If you are using a tomato raw, try to leave as much of this “filling” in, as it contains a lot of flavor and a ton of the Vitamin C; however, it would just come pouring out on the grill anyway and cause lots of unnecessary spattering and flare ups.
When I cut peppers, I always do it this way: Cut off the top and bottom. Save them, don’t throw them out! Sometimes the stem pops right out, or you can cut around it. Then, stand it up and cut down the sides, in between the membranes – let the “seams” be your guide. Then you are left with the inside, core and all, and you do not have to deal with those seeds flying everywhere – it is all contained in its own little package. Take the sides and cut them up; but for this recipe, I left them in this size so I could easily grill them. I also used jalapeno in this dish. Italian – no…but who cares. Aren’t we just a big melting pot, anyway? I wanted to add a bit of heat, and keeping with the grilled theme, I went for it. Just a note, I would make this again using 2 or even 3 jalapenos next time. For any nervous nellies: this only added a bit of background, not smoking hot at all, or even barely there. Go for it.
Grill the tomatoes until they are just starting to singe and are blistering. Slip off the skins if they are coming loose – a sign that it is cooked. Pile up all the vegetables in a bowl, as you are grilling in batches to allow them to steam and continue cooking together, ensuring they are tender. I used a Vidalia onion, just in case it was not completely cooked through, it would still be sweet. This wasn’t an issue. I started out with the peppers and onions, allowing them more time to sit and steam together. I also cut the onion in half crosswise, and then sliced them in half moons, keeping them together as much as possible on the grill. (I do not own a grill basket.) It worked great and they turned out lovely!
This sauce made enough to cover one pound of pasta, and enough for a second meal…I am thinking pizza? Anyway, divide in half, if you wish. (I wouldn’t, if I were you…it is too good.)
Grilled Marinara Sauce
5 lbs. tomatoes (about 15 medium) – cored, cut in half crosswise, and seeded
4 medium red bell peppers – cut in large chunks
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and quartered
1 large sweet onion, cut in half moons
1/2 c. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup basil, loosely packed
3/4 c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
freshly ground black pepper
Prepare grill. Arrange vegetables in a single layer in a pan, cut sides facing up. Heat olive oil in small pan on stove top, over moderate heat. Heat until surface of oil is moving away from the center. Remove from heat, and while swirling pan gently, add minced garlic carefully. (It may spatter.) Brush oil over vegetables and season with salt and pepper.
When grill is ready, place peppers and onions cut side down, working in batches. Grill for about 5 minutes, or until softening and beginning to brown. Brush with additional garlic oil and turn over to grill. Allow to grill for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until cooked through. Move to a large bowl. Repeat process with tomatoes, allowing to grill about 3 minutes each side. Remove any loose skins and discard. Transfer to the large bowl when finished and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Place vegetables in the bowl of a food processor and puree, working in batches, transferring to a bowl or saucepan, as you work. Add basil and cheese to last batch. Puree and mix in with the rest of the prepared sauce. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; reheat slightly over stove, if necessary. Serve over pasta with additional Romano cheese.