October 25, 2017

Its easy to make peppers the centre of your supper. But the real star of the show is always their roasting juices, says Nigel Slater

I like peppers best when they are deep red or orange, and roasted until their flesh is sweet. Even more when they are soft enough to fall apart as you carefully remove their charred skin. Come to think of it, that is pretty much the only way I like them.

They are good to stuff (with basmati rice and vine fruits; feta and olives or garlic-spiked pork ragu flecked with lemon and juniper). Their capacity is generous, which is more than you can say for a courgette, where most of your stuffing falls into the baking dish.

A dish of roast peppers is a useful thing to have in the fridge, kept luscious with a drizzle of olive oil and clingfilm. You can stuff them into soft pillows of focaccia and taleggio; fill them with goats cheese and folds of Iberico ham, or spread them with artichoke or olive paste and shredded basil, and roll them up.

At their best, they come with their roasting juices. This is the treasure that must never be wasted: the mixture of olive oil, pepper juice and seasoning (salt, pepper, thyme, garlic, perhaps rosemary) that collects under the peppers as they roast. It is simply gorgeous, as sweet as caramel with a deep, fruity note. Mix it with red wine or sherry vinegar to make it go further. Trickle it, like the precious balm it is, over your cooked peppers and anything you might serve with them.

Roast peppers, toasted almond pesto

Simply
Simply red: roast peppers and toasted almond pesto. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

Dont be tempted to skip the toasting of the almonds, it deepens their flavour immeasurably. The pesto will keep for three or four days in the fridge. If it solidifies, then let it come up to cool room temperature before serving. It makes a rather fine sandwich filling, too.

red peppers 3
garlic 4 cloves
olive oil 1 tbsp

For the pesto:
skinned almonds 100g
garlic 1 small clove
basil 50g
lemon juice 1 tbsp
white wine vinegar 1 tbsp
olive oil 75ml, plus a little extra
parmesan 60g, grated

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Wipe the peppers, cut them in half lengthways and remove any white cores. Place the peppers cut side down in a roasting tin, together with the whole, unpeeled garlic, trickle with olive oil, then bake for a good 40 minutes, until they have softened and wrinkled. If their skins have blackened then all to the good.

Make the pesto: put the almonds in a shallow pan and lightly brown them over a moderate heat, tossing them around the pan from time to time until they are golden and toasted. Dont let anything distract you almonds can burn in seconds.

Put the nuts into the bowl of a food processor, then add the peeled clove of garlic and the basil leaves and their stalks. Process to a coarse paste, add the lemon juice and white wine vinegar, then blend in the olive oil, taking care not to reduce the mixture to a smooth paste.

Stir in the grated parmesan and set the paste aside, covered, in a cool place.

Remove the peppers from the oven and let them relax for a few minutes until cool enough to handle. Peel off and discard the skins (they should come away easily). Squeeze the garlic from its skin. Place the skinned peppers on a serving dish, dot with the roasted garlic.

Pour a little more oil into the roasting tin. Stir to mix with the roasting juices, scraping up any deliciousness from the pan, then trickle over the peppers. Serve at room temperature, with a bowl of the toasted almond pesto, stirred at the last minute.

Lentils, peppers and gorgonzola

Serves 3-4
romano peppers 6
olive oil 2 tbsp
red onion 1, medium-sized
white wine vinegar 3 tbsp
lentils small and dark green, such as le Puy150g
parsley a small bunch (20g)
gorgonzola 200g

For the dressing:
basil 25g
parsley 15g
red chilli small and mild
shelled walnuts 50g
olive oil 6 tbsp
lemon juice 3 tbsp

Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place the whole peppers in a roasting tin, add the olive oil and 2 tbsp of water and bake for 30-40 minutes until they have collapsed and the skin is black in patches. Remove them from the oven.

Peel and finely slice the onion, put it in a small mixing bowl then cover with the vinegar and set aside for at least 40 minutes. Turn the onion over in the vinegar from time to time to ensure it is evenly marinated.

Boil the lentils in a pan of deep, lightly salted water for 20-25 minutes until tender but with a little bite in them. Drain them in a sieve, put in a bowl then add the drained onion to them.

Peel the skins off the peppers, reserving their roasting juices. Tear the peppers into long, wide strips and place on a serving plate. Add the juices to the lentils. Break the gorgonzola into bite-sized pieces and add to the lentils.

Roughly chop the parsley. If the leaves are small, I like to leave them whole. Make the herb dressing by putting the basil leaves and stems and parsley leaves into a food processor or blender, with the chilli (halved and seeds removed), shelled walnuts, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt, and processing to a coarse green paste. Taste the paste for seasoning and add salt and lemon juice as necessary.

Spoon the lentils and cheese on to the peppers, trickling over any dressing from the bottom of the bowl. Place a spoonful of the herb dressing on top.

Email Nigel at nigel.slater@observer.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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