Nosh: Hot Pepper and Tomato Sauce

Hey, all.

First things first: regarding my previous post about damage done to my external hard drive, the verdict is in. My photographs have been deemed unrecoverable. Gone. Kaput. I still have some stored in various places, and (silver lining, I suppose) most of the images I posted on this blog are what I considered among the best of my photographs. So I have the blog photos too, of course. It breaks my heart; there were a lot of shots I wasn’t done with yet, but I wallowed long enough and wallowing won’t bring them back. The fact remains that they are unrecoverable and I am tired of wallowing. Ever forward.

Now. On to the good stuff.

Oh, this pepper…sauce? Condiment? Magical addition to one’s food lineup? A word of warning: if you don’t like garlic or hot and spicy food, then this recipe is soooooo not for you. But for me? Garlic + spicy = perfect. We are in the home stretch of vegan January (necessary to rid myself of the clutter of forty pounds of butter I ate while making cookies this holiday season) so it’s perfect for us to eat right now, but it’s always good. I’ve made this so many times that I don’t remember where I first heard about it, and I think by now the recipe for it has coded itself into my DNA. Do note: it takes 40-45 minutes to cook, so it’s not a super-speedy recipe, but it’s all delicious. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 large-ish bell peppers (whichever color you prefer)
  • 2 hot peppers; I generally stick with serranos but use whatever you’d like
  • 2 or 3 or 4 cloves of garlic; it’s all dependent on your taste. And my taste for garlic is deep and abiding.
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 (ish) cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil

That’s it! No long list of spices, no hard-to-get ingredients. That’s one of the things I love about this pepper sauce. It’s a simple approach that makes things that already taste really good, like peppers and tomatoes and garlic, even better. Getting started: Assemble your ingredients.

Off to a good start!

Off to a good start!

Start some oil in a pan, over low-to-medium heat. Cut the bell peppers into nice, bitey chunks. Slice the serranos into nice, thin wheels. The sauce is supposed to be hot, so don’t remove the seeds from the hot peppers. Cut the garlic into thin slivers. Toss everything in the pan and add some salt.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Use gentle heat to coax out the flavors.

Let these start to cook, but stay nearby and stir the peppers and garlic fairly regularly. You want them to get soft, you don’t want them to fry and get crisp. After about twenty minutes, they should be nice and soft–not totally squishy, but definitely flexible.

On their way to savory goodness.

On their way to savory goodness.

Once the peppers and garlic are ready, add the tomato puree and enough vegetable stock to give the ingredients something to hang out in for a while. I found that a cup of stock tends to work. Give the mixture a taste; because of the varying and unpredictable heat of hot peppers (if you look up serranos on the Scoville Heat Scale, you’ll see their heat ranges from 6,000 to 23,000 units, and there’s no way to tell which peppers are hottest without cutting them open and tasting them), your sauce may actually need another jolt of spice.

If you find that’s the case, don’t be afraid to shake in a little more hot pepper; cayenne works well. But be judicious about adding in extra cayenne. The sauce will thicken and concentrate the flavors, and you don’t want your beautiful spicy sauce to morph into a pan full of molten agony. If it’s still not spicy enough for your liking at the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in a little more cayenne and call it a day. Continue the cooking at the same medium-low temperature, and–again–stir it fairly regularly. At the end of another twenty minutes or so, you should have a nice, thick sauce. You can always use the back of the spoon test to see if the sauce is thick enough. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Yep. Plenty thick.

Ahhhh…now it’s ready.

So what do we do with this? Oh, so very many things. This hot pepper sauce can be:

  • Schmeared on sandwiches
  • Stirred into pasta sauce
  • On top of chicken breast
  • It tastes great with arugula. So…anything with that
  • Mixed into beans
  • Over a baked potato topped with broccoli and cheese (I speak from experience)
  • And so on. The possibilities are endless!

The first thing we made with this batch was hummus and pita pizzas. Homemade pizzas of any ilk are a great way to use up random leftovers and/or open things in the fridge, so see what you’ve got in there and go for it. Here’s how:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Smear some hummus on howevermany pita breads you want to make and place them on a cookie tray. Spread some of your delicious, spicy, peppery, tomato-y sauce on the hummus.

Oh, hells yeah!

Oh, hells yeah!

This is a delicious nosh as it stands, right now, with nothing else done to it. But hold on! We can make it even better.

Top this with whatever you choose. George and I had some onions we’d chopped up and an open bag of arugula (a staple in this house) sitting in our fridge, so on they went. We also had a bunch of leftover roasted acorn squash, so that got chopped up and put on top.

Almost home!

Almost home!

We put that in the oven and let it all roast for 12-ish minutes; turn the baking sheet once after 8 minutes or so to check on how it’s doing. When you take the pitas out of the oven, top them with some fresh parsley, if  you have any on hand. In the end, you’ll have a lovely, toasty pita topped with roasted veggies, hummus that turns almost nutty in the oven, and this amazing, savory, thick, spicy, all-around vegtastic, and (best of all) healthy sauce. Because that’s how we do in central PA.

Plus, it's good cold the next day.

Plus, it’s good cold the next day.

Vegan January ain’t so hard to handle when you get to eat food like this. Enjoy!

Nosh: Amazingly Simple and Amazingly Good Tomato Sauce

It might not always look this way, but I’m a fan of simple.  It’s not my dearest dream to stand in my kitchen, meticulously arranging cheese curds, though (obviously) I will do so if need be.  My penchant for intensive cooking, however, doesn’t preclude my appreciation for throwing a bunch of food in a pot and letting magic happen on its own.

This is why I am such a convert to this really…REALLY…simple, beautiful tomato sauce.  George and I were making eggplant tonight, and neither of us necessarily wanted to make an elaborate sauce, partly because the eggplant is so good you don’t want to eclipse it and partly because…just…didn’t…want…to.  And so, three ingredients (plus salt & pepper to taste), and about 45 minutes, and you’ve got a pot of amazing tomato sauce.

Here’s the ingredients:

Srsly, this is it.

One big can of tomatoes.  One medium-ish onion.  Five (yes, five) pats of butter.  Don’t chop the onion, just halve it or (if you’re feeling crazy and adventurous), quarter it, like I did.  Be generous with the pepper and pay attention to the salt content of your ingredients, as I could imagine this could cross the line quite easily and become way too salty.  Anyway.  Everybody in the pool!

Srsly, just throw them all in together.

Let it come to a pretty good simmer for a few minutes (never a boil), and then drop the heat so it cooks at a nice, slow, burbling, glopping simmer, for 45 minutes.  I checked the seasonings once about half-way through and added some more black pepper, and you want to crush the tomatoes with the back of the spoon and pull out the onion at the end of the 45 minute simmer, but that’s it.  Resist the temptation to add garlic, or thyme, or some pepper flakes.  Those would indeed be delicious additions, but the point of this sauce is to celebrate the alchemy that happens when three ingredients are brought together in harmonious proportion.

Broken-down tomatoes make for great texture.

This ain’t just for eggplant, people.  It would be great on top of your pasta, too; it should cover about a pound pretty easily.

I’ll fess up, this sauce doesn’t look like much for the first twenty, twenty-five minutes or so.  The onions haven’t started to release their oniony goodness into the tomatoes.  The butter hasn’t incorporated into the body of the sauce, so it’s just…kind of…buttery.  But then it all starts to work.  The onions give of themselves unto the tomatoes, the butter begins to integrate, the tomatoes break down and start to thicken the entire mix.  When it’s ready, you’ll find you have a sauce that is unbelievably good.  It is delicate and sweet and rich and velvety.  If you want to know how to make tomatoes exquisite comfort food, this is how.

Oh, yeah…did I mention we had eggplant?

Srsly, I am jam packed with deliciousness.

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