Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What to Do with All Those Roasted Red Bell Peppers
What’s cooking? Roasted Red Pepper Aioli, Romesco Sauce, and Polenta Canapés

My husband is away on a golfing trip, so I’ve been on my own for a few days now. And even as I pull away from the curb after dropping him off at the airport, I’m already thinking about what I can cook while he’s gone. In what now has become something of a routine, I don’t even return home but head straight for my favorite supermarket to stock up on foods that (a) he doesn’t like, or (b) I want to play with in the absence of any pressure to fix dinner.

It gets a little weird after a while. The first night he was gone, I decided to try roasting broccolini (brushed with a bit of lemon olive oil and salt, baked at 375º for 15-20 minutes), and it was so good, I ate the entire bunch. (I broiled a piece of cod to go with it, so you don’t think I’m completely off center.) Then last night, I sautéed chicken gizzards for dinner, which I got around to at about 9 p.m.

I love chicken gizzards – and no, I’m not going to suggest that you try them. It’s a little like feasting on rubber bands. But my grandmother loved chicken gizzards, so I took it on faith that they were a delicacy; and for many true southerners, that remains the case. My friend, Diane, from Georgia, is the only person I know who will happily gnaw away with me on a basket of gizzards from Lucy’s Fried Chicken.

We all have those foods, don’t we? Akin to comfort food, those items we secretly love but don’t often admit to. Another of mine is a can of Campbell’s Pork & Beans – not heated, just straight from the can. You wouldn’t think the Kitchen Goddess capable of such blasphemous behavior, would you?

On to the Roasted Red Pepper Sauces

Remember these? Did you make some? If not, you'll want to now. Or buy some, and keep reading.

I did spend most of Saturday working on what I promised you, which is a couple of ways to use those delicious roasted red peppers from my antipasto post last week. You did make them, didn’t you? It’s not critical – the recipes here will still be good using the ones in a jar from the grocery store, but you really should at least try roasting your own. It’ll take a couple of hours, but the process is easy and the result is a stash of this condiment that’s amazingly flexible. Also, the ones you roast and jar on your own are waaaay better in delivering a smoky/sweet red bell pepper flavor.

Kitchen Goddess note: The grocery store peppers in a jar will most likely be packed in a brine. If you use them, be sure to rinse them and blot them to remove the brine. Huffington Post did a recent taste test of 13 brands, which you can check out here.

So here’s what we have today, and both are as easy and simple to make as you can imagine – no cooking required:

Roasted Red Pepper Aioli – Although the name comes from the Provençal words for garlic and oil, aioli is more of an emulsion like mayo, though not as thick. This version doesn’t need any extra garlic, as the peppers are already flavored with it. In addition to the smoky sweetness from the peppers, the sauce gets a tangy tweak from the mustard and lemon juice. Served cold, it’s great as a dipping sauce for crudité or cold shrimp, and it often accompanies cooked seafood like crab cakes, fried clams or fried calamari. Use it as a sandwich spread, a dressing for a pasta salad, or even as a sauce for grilled chicken or flank steak.

Romesco Sauce – This nut- and red pepper-based sauce comes from the Catalonia region of Spain. I made my version with almonds, but you could substitute pignoli nuts or hazelnuts, or use a mixture of almonds and hazelnuts. I had only plain, slivered almonds, so I toasted them under the broiler and added an extra bit of salt to compensate for the call for “roasted salted almonds.” The nuts give the sauce a creaminess that works really well with the peppers. This sauce – served hot – is great on fish or pasta (choose a shape like fusilli, with some nooks and crannies) or polenta, and can even be cooked into the polenta (a.k.a. grits, y’all). I took polenta squares with dollops of Romesco (at room temp) to a dinner party and got excellent reviews all around.

Roasted Red Pepper Aioli

Adapted from epicurious.com

Makes about 2 cups.

2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
6 ounces roasted red peppers
½ cup goo quality olive oil
½ cup grapeseed oil*
1½ teaspoons salt
4 good grinds black pepper
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, and red peppers in the bowl of a food processor. Purée 30 seconds, then with the machine running, add the grapeseed oil in a slow, steady stream, then the olive oil in the same manner. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne and pulse briefly to mix.

*Kitchen Goddess note about grapeseed oil: This oil has a clean, light taste and a high polyunsaturated fat content. It adds almost no flavor, and thus keeps the aioli from tasting too much like olive oil. If you don’t have grapeseed oil, use canola oil. 

Romesco Sauce

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, March 2006

Makes about 2 cups.

7 ounces roasted red peppers, blotted with paper towels to remove marinade or brine, depending on whether your peppers are homemade or purchased
1 slice white sandwich bread, toasted on both sides
¼ cup roasted salted almonds (not smoked), or 2 tablespoons almonds plus 2 tablespoons roasted hazelnuts
1 large clove roasted garlic (or plain if you don’t have the roasted kind – and by the way, why is there no roasted garlic in your fridge?)
½ cup good quality chicken broth
¼ cup good quality olive oil
1 teaspoon Sherry
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ¼ teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes, or to taste

Tear the toast into pieces and combine in a blender with the remaining ingredients. Purée until smooth, about 2 minutes.

You will want to heat the sauce if you are serving it over pasta or polenta, and it’s an excellent idea to top the dish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

And now for the Polenta Canapés with Romesco ...

I tried to get these to be nicely spread out on the plate, but the undersides are a bit moist, so they kept sliding toward the center like amoeba trying to attach to each other. Next time, I'll use a flatter plate.

Back in November, I posted a lovely recipe for Creamy Polenta. The method below uses the same ingredients, requires more constant attention, but takes half the time. Your choice. Leave out the butter if you’re planning to serve it in squares, canapé-style.

Creamy Polenta

Serves 6

2 cups milk
2 cups good quality chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking) or yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine the milk, broth, and salt in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the polenta in a fine stream, whisking to keep clumps from forming. Reduce the heat to whatever level allows the polenta to simmer, and cook, stirring frequently with a long-handled wooden spoon, for 20-25 minutes, or until the texture is no longer grainy. (The mixture will resemble a lava pit as it bubbles, and that long-handled spoon will keep you from getting burned.) Toward the end, you may want to add a couple of tablespoons of water if the mixture is stiff but still al dente. Once the polenta is creamy, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth. Serve immediately. Remember to leave out the butter if you are serving it canapé-style.

For main-course polenta: Polenta begins to congeal within 10 minutes as it starts to cool. If you are serving it in bowls but don’t plan to serve it immediately, pour over a thin film of milk to cover the top of the polenta, put a lid on the pan, and turn your heat to the lowest possible setting (or let the pan sit on the warm stovetop) until you are ready to eat. Then just before serving, turn up the heat slightly and whisk the milk well into the polenta until smooth.

For canapé-style polenta: Pour the cooked polenta (to a height of ½ inch) into a lightly greased quarter-sheet baking pan (9 x 13 inches) and let it sit for 30-40 minutes. Cut into squares no larger than 2 inches, and transfer the squares to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Squares can be covered with cellophane wrap and refrigerated at this point for several hours or even overnight. Re-heat them 10-15 minutes in a 350º oven.

When you are ready to serve, brush the tops lightly with olive oil. Set oven to broil, and toast squares until

they are just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and top each with a dollop of Romesco sauce.

Kitchen Goddess note: Extra polenta squares – without the sauce – can be frozen for the next time you have to produce an hors d’oeuvre on a moment’s notice. Re-heat 10-15 minutes in a 350º oven.


  1. Kind of like me and fried chicken livers. A delicacy! My sister's mother-in-law was a fabulous cook and made them for me, along with her famous Jerusalem artichoke pickles. Homegrown artichokes. Homegrown and home-scrubbed. Talk about a labor of love.
    But I've never been fond of the gizzard thing...

    1. Oh, I love chicken livers, too. In fact the place I go for the gizzards sells a basket of "lizards," which is equal parts livers and gizzards. Come visit and we'll go there!