The cheat: roast capsicum

Author: Emma Knowles
Photography: Rob Shaw

Used in dips, soups, salads and pasta, sweet, char-grilled peppers bring richness and colour to many a midweek meal.

There's no doubt that the fiery-coloured red capsicum is at its best char-grilled or roasted. It develops a mellow sweetness and silky texture that's perfect for use in anything from salads to sauces, soups and pasta dishes. But let's face it: peeling and seeding a roast capsicum can be annoyingly fiddly. Buying char-grilled or roast capsicum, either from the deli counter or in jars, is an investment that doesn't compromise quality (the same can't be said for char-grilled eggplant; we've never found a store-bought version that can hold a candle to anything home-made).

Buying ready-made roast capsicum cuts a good hour off any recipe that calls for the ingredient. The examples on offer at the deli counter usually haven't been preserved in any way, so should be used within a few days of buying. Jarred roast or char-grilled capsicum, on the other hand, is shelf-stable until it's opened (and before the best-before date) and is a great pantry stand-by. Once open, store the jar in the refrigerator for up to a week or so.

Roast red capsicum and saffron soup (pictured)
Serves 4-6
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, then sauté 1 thinly sliced Spanish onion and 1 finely chopped garlic clove until tender (4-5 minutes). Add 125ml dry white wine and ½ tsp saffron, and simmer until liquid reduces by half (2-3 minutes). Add 1 litre chicken stock, 400gm canned tomato, 400gm char-grilled capsicum, 3 thyme sprigs and season to taste. Simmer until well-flavoured (10-15 minutes), add 50gm coarsely torn crustless day-old sourdough and 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, remove from heat, stand until bread softens, then purée with a hand-held blender. Serve hot, with a dollop of natural yoghurt, and scattered with coarsely torn roast capsicum and thyme.

Roast capsicum and baked ricotta on garlic crostini
Serves 4
Place a 200gm wedge of firm ricotta on a baking tray lined with baking paper, drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil, scatter with a pinch of dried chilli flakes and a pinch of dried rigani and season to taste. Roast at 200C until firm and browned on the edges (8-10 minutes), cool, then coarsely crumble. Meanwhile, combine 200gm coarsely torn char-grilled capsicum, 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil and 2 tsp Sherry vinegar or to taste in a bowl, season to taste and set aside to marinate. Drizzle 8 thick slices of sourdough with a little extra-virgin olive oil and char-grill until toasted (2-3 minutes), then rub with cut-side of a garlic clove. Pile marinated capsicum mixture on top, scatter with baked ricotta and serve.

Red capsicum hummus
Serves 4-6
Process 400gm canned drained chickpeas, 200gm char-grilled capsicum, 2 tbsp hulled tahini and 2 garlic cloves in a food processor until smooth. Add 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil and juice of 1 lemon, or to taste, process to combine, then thin with a little warm water if necessary. Season to taste and serve with warm toasted pita bread.

Roast capsicum and sausage strozzapreti
Serves 4-6
Cook 400gm dried strozzapreti in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (8-10 minutes). Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté 1 thinly sliced onion and 1 finely chopped garlic clove until tender (4-5 minutes). Add 2 pork and chilli sausages squeezed out of their skins and stir, breaking into coarse chunks with a wooden spoon, until browned (2-3 minutes). Add 100ml red wine, simmer until reduced by half, then add 200gm canned cherry tomatoes and simmer until thick (2-3 minutes). Add 250gm coarsely torn char-grilled capsicum and a handful each of chopped flat-leaf parsley and oregano. Toss sauce with drained pasta and serve hot.

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