Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Farmers Market Files: Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

Here’s another great way to preserve the farmers market bounty for the sad, dark, monochrome days of winter when there is nary a brightly-colored food item to be found that isn’t from Florida or Mexico. This spread is great on sandwiches, crackers, and pasta, and can be used to dress up soups and stews as well, kind of like a sweet harissa. You might be surprised by how sweet it is, given that it only calls for five ingredients and none of them is a sweetener. Cooking down the red peppers concentrates their flavor, and the combination of this sweetness with the tart tomatoes and pungent garlic produces a perfect end-of-summer flavor medley.

A little bit goes a long way, so I always set aside some to use fresh and put the rest in the freezer for later. The recipe below yields about 2 cups of spread, though this recipe is easily doubled/tripled/etc., if you’d like to freeze it in larger quantities.

(Keep in mind that this recipe really only qualifies for cheapskate status when made at this time of year, when tomatoes and red bell peppers are fresh and abundant, and can often be bought in bulk quantities at farmers markets. Otherwise, you’re looking at a $20+ spread!)

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Sweet Red Pepper and Tomato Spread

  • About five large ripe red bell peppers, or the equivalent*
  • About 10 large or 15 medium picked-ripe roma tomatoes, or the equivalent*
  • 1 head garlic, separated and peeled
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste

*Note on quantities: Don’t worry too much about precision here. The beauty of ingredients that are this delicious is that your end result is going to taste good, no matter what.

Preparing the veggies: Roughly chop the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic, and process finely in the food-chopping appliance of your choice. This spread is best with a bit of texture, so try to avoid processing the vegetables into a puree – very small pieces are ideal.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. When hot, add the vegetable mixture. The vegetables will begin to release their liquid and simmer. Cook at a low simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces to 1/2 to 1/3 of its original volume. (It will thicken to a paste-like consistency once it cools.) Remove from heat, stir in salt, and let cool.

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One of my favorite ways to serve this is on a sandwich with avacado, cheese, and a fried egg:

Sandwich with sweet red pepper spread

It is surprisingly hard to take an attractive picture of a sandwich.

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Cost of core ingredients:

  • 5 farmers market red peppers, bought bulk: $3?
  • 15 medium farmers market tomatoes, bought bulk: $3?
  • 1 head garlic: ~$1

Total cost: ~$7, plus the cost of small amounts of olive oil and salt.

Bon Appétit!

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Filed under Dip, Gluten-free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetarian, Veggies

The Farmers Market Files: Preserving the Red Pepper Bounty

Red Bell Peppers, Bought Bulk

My $7 farmers market score!

I know I just spent my entire last post waxing eloquent about how much I adore the peak-of-summer ripe tomato, but it’s possible that I love red bell peppers just as much. Unlike picked-ripe tomatoes, you can actually get good red bell peppers year-round. However, they’re SUPER expensive – $6.99/lb. at my food co-op for organic ones, imported from Mexico or somewhere, which can work out to be about $3 for a single pepper. Since I generally try to keep my meals to somewhere between $2.00 and $3.50 per serving, a single red bell pepper can eat up a significant chunk of my budget for a meal. For this reason, I used to only use red bell peppers in my cooking in August and September, when they were fresh and abundant locally.

Tiny Red Bell Peppers

Unusual sizes or shapes = a great opportunity to save money!

Then I discovered that, just like tomatoes, you can buy entire buckets of them at farmers markets in the summer. Like tomatoes, these peppers often differ from the ones that get proudly displayed on market tables – they’re either a tiny bit overripe, or damaged, or often just smaller than the big, fat bell peppers that go for a buck each. But they’re just as delicious, and they’re a FANTASTIC deal – if you can figure out what to do with them!

The first time I found one of these buckets for sale, I snapped it up immediately, without having any idea what I was going to do with all those peppers. I probably could have sat down and eaten them all over the course of a week or so, but I wanted to keep some of them to brighten up that sad and entirely-too-monochrome period from late October to early May, when there isn’t a single fresh, locally-grown vegetable to be found. So I trimmed the bad parts, cut them in half, and stuck them in my freezer – and enjoyed ripe, red peppers all winter long! (Because freezing damages the pepper’s cell walls, these peppers are best used in a dish where they will be cooked; sadly, frozen vegetables are a bit too floppy to be used raw.) 

Last year there were almost no red bell peppers to be had at farmers markets, due to awful growing conditions, and man, did I miss having them in my freezer! So this year I’m going to double-up on my pepper freezing. I’d hate to be caught pepperless again!

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To Freeze Red Bell Peppers

Cut each pepper in half from top to bottom. Remove the stems and inner seeds, and trim away all bad parts.

Lay peppers cut-side-down on a baking tray.

Freezing Bell Peppers

Line up half-peppers on a baking tray to freeze them

Stick it in the freezer. After 24 hours, move peppers to a freezer bag to store all winter!

ALL the peppers

Now I have ALL the peppers.

To use: thaw in a bowl of hot water for ~10 minutes, prepare as usual, and enjoy!

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