<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Pepper powerhouse: Creamy, no-cook pepper sauce has many uses

By , Columbian staff writer
4 Photos
Make this Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce in the blender with just a few ingredients.
Make this Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce in the blender with just a few ingredients. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

My daughter doesn’t often cook, but she does love to eat. Occasionally, however, she gets an itch to be in the kitchen, and she’ll just go in and whip something up all by herself. (We’re not the kind of family who cooks together, preferring the creative freedom of solo endeavors.)

When she was about 7 or 8 years old, she was obsessed with the cookery shows on the Create channel, a public television network featuring do-it-yourself instructional programming like sewing, gardening and home improvement. She liked “Caprial and John’s Kitchen,” “Yan Can Cook” and “Lidia’s Kitchen,” but most of all, she loved “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” Lots of parents tell their children bedtime stories about monsters and princesses and dragons and mystical kingdoms, but little Annika demanded stories about the show’s host, chef Rick Bayless. She drifted off to dreamland hearing tales about how Rick Bayless defeated the dragon then made tacos de cochito.

She eventually tired of bedtime stories starring Bayless but kept up her kitchen experiments. In elementary school, she entered a cooking competition. Her recipe was called Sunset Salad, a mixture of shredded apples, carrots and crunchy pears served with a cinnamon vinaigrette. She didn’t win but she got a T-shirt and she wore it with pride for years.

Last week, while I was busy taste-testing 20 different donuts for The Columbian’s Great Donut Taste-Off, Annika was home alone and got a hankering for homemade pasta sauce. (It’s fine, she’s 20 years old and can safely operate any appliance except a blow torch.) She consulted YouTube, that inexhaustible source of recipes, and put her own twist on a red pepper sauce. When I got home, the sauce was in the fridge and she was wiping the counter clean. She’d enjoyed the sauce on a hearty bowl of cavatappi but I thought it would also taste great over chicken cutlets and rice. The thick sauce requires no cooking (unless you count roasting the garlic) and can also be used as a sandwich spread or a dip for veggies. It was so delicious and versatile, I thought I’d share it with you.

First, roast your garlic. Peel each clove, toss them in a little olive oil and place them whole on a small baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes but watch them closely so they don’t burn on the bottom. You want them golden.

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce

1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, liquid drained and reserved

1 14.5-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes, whole or diced, liquid drained and reserved

1 12-ounce block of cream cheese

½ teaspoon salt or salt to taste

½ teaspoon lemon pepper

½ teaspoon paprika

5 cloves roasted garlic

1 teaspoon fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried oregano

3-4 leaves fresh basil or ½ teaspoon dried basil

A few sprinkles of red pepper flakes, if that’s your thing

Place in blender or food processor and blend on high until smooth. Thin it as necessary with reserved liquid.

Next, drain a 12-ounce can of fire-roasted red peppers, available at any grocery store, usually somewhere near the pickles. Don’t throw out the liquid but set it aside to help control the consistency of your sauce. Put all the peppers in a blender or food processor along with a can of fire-roasted tomatoes (also drained with liquid reserved), the roasted garlic and an entire 12-ounce block of cream cheese. Add ½ teaspoon salt or salt to taste, and ½ teaspoon each lemon pepper and paprika or smoked paprika. You can also add a few sprinkles of red pepper flakes if you like a little heat. Lastly, add 1 or 2 teaspoons of fresh oregano and three or fresh basil leaves. I think the fresh herbs really make a difference but don’t panic if you don’t have them; use ½ teaspoon each dried oregano and basil instead. If you’d like to try other herbs like parsley, dill, sage or cilantro, go right ahead.

Blend everything on high until it’s quite smooth. Thin it as necessary with your reserved pepper and tomato liquid, but not too much, otherwise it will just slide off your pasta, meat or rice instead of coating it with a satisfying amount of sauce. If you’re going to use it as a sandwich spread or dip, you will definitely want to use less liquid or even no liquid at all. If you still have liquid left over, add it to the water you use to boil your pasta or steam your rice.

To enjoy the sauce with pasta, simply toss it over cooked pasta in any shape you like. (It’s even better if you butter the noodles first.) I added a few crumbles of feta cheese and it was splendid. I imagine grated fresh Parmesan or tangy goat cheese would be even better. To eat it with chicken cutlets, brown the cutlets in a pan, add enough sauce to coat the cutlets plus a little bit more, then spoon over rice. For an Indian variation, try adding ½ teaspoon each curry powder and cumin to the sauce (or more, if you’re cumin-mad like I am).

If Rick Bayless is reading this, thank you for inspiring my daughter to have so much fun in the kitchen. Now, if you could get her to put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher, that would be even better than slaying a dragon.