Roasted red bell peppers are among my favorite cheater ingredients. I call them cheater because once people taste them - or a dish with them in it - they think you've used some extravagant ingredient. They are packed with that much flavor.
Red peppers are overripe green peppers, red because they've been hanging on the plant longer, which also makes them sweeter.
Fresh red bell peppers can be pricey, $4 a pound, but you can find them on sale. If you see them at a bargain price, load up. They generally keep well for at least a week or two, and you can roast and freeze them for longer storage.
To roast, place whole peppers on a sheet of foil under the broiler or on a grill and cook, turning often, until the skin is charred on all sides. Immediately place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap (or foil) or seal in a paper bag and let stand about 15 minutes. The peppers will steam, making it easier to remove the skin, core and seed.
Use immediately or layer them whole between sheets of plastic wrap and freeze up to 4 months. Fresh red peppers also freeze well without any blanching. Wash, core and seed them before cutting into strips and freeze. They will lose their crisp texture but are ideal for cooked dishes: stir-fries, soups and chilis.
Here are four ways for roasted peppers to wow guests:
Puree them in a food processor; serve as a dip.
Serve slices of roasted red pepper with fresh mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil and fresh herbs as an appetizer.
Mix pureed red peppers with low-fat mayonnaise and use as a sandwich spread.
Puree with pitted kalamata olives to make tapenade.
Pasta, Scallops, and Roasted-Pepper Pesto
Makes 2 servings
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3/4 cup roasted red peppers, patted dry and chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, minced
Kosher salt and pepper
1/2 pound pasta
1/2 pound dry (not soaked in water) sea scallops, patted dry
1. Place the garlic in a skillet over medium heat. Toast, shaking the pan often, until the skins are spotty brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove, cool, then peel and coarsely chop.
2. In a food processor place the garlic, peppers, Parmesan and ricotta cheese, parsley, 1 tablespoon olive oil, shallot, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt; process until smooth. Transfer to bowl; add salt, pepper to taste. Cover pesto with plastic wrap. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days.)
3. Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, about 8 minutes. Drain; reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.
4. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet in which the garlic was toasted. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Sear until nicely browned on each side, about 3 minutes each side.
5. Toss the pesto with the pasta. Add reserved pasta water a little at a time until it's a sauce consistency. Divide into bowls. Top with scallops.
Per serving: 440 calories; 13 grams fat (4 grams saturated fat), 46 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 647 milligrams sodium, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 213 milligrams calcium, 3 grams fiber.