Red Pepper-Ricotta Pesto

Red Pepper Pesto 1-2One of my favorite cooking magazines, Cook’s Illustrated, runs a quirky “Quick Tips” column that I love.

In a two-page spread in each issue, cooks around the country send in ingenious “hacks” they have developed to get around some of cooking’s daily annoyances. (Did I use the term “hacks” correctly? I’m a boomer. It’s. Not. Easy. I’m still struggling to understand what a “hashtag” is and what you do with one–sounds like a cooking term to me. Am I wrong?)

I’m not totally uncool, however. On a redemptive note, I did understand Joe Biden’s reference to malarkey at the Democratic Convention. Did you? Apparently there have been a whole lot of people looking up the term in recent days. Let’s just say, I know malarkey when I hear it.

Meanwhile, back on the subject of quick tips, Cook’s magazine’s August issue has a genius suggestion to store ripe peaches in a muffin tin to keep the peaches from touching each other and spoiling quickly. Boy could I have used that idea last week. Also in the August issue, another cook, in a moment of clarity, has discovered that he can core a jalapeno pepper with an apple corer and avoid the dreaded consequences (like touching your eyes) of handling jalapeno seeds. (Am I the only one so careless as to do this? Repeatedly, I inflict “jalapeno eyes” on myself–after which I lie in bed with an ice pack on my face and vow never to be so careless again? Until the next time, of course.)

I’m hoping against hope that one day Cook’s  will run a foolproof idea for managing one’s refrigerator. I have two refrigerators and my household is one person and a very small dog. Nevertheless, I never have any room in my refrigerators.

How can that be, you ask.  Answer: It is all those damn little jars that say “refrigerate after opening”–like the jar of sweet jalapeno slices I convinced myself I needed at my last Trader Joe’s shopping extravaganza. (They’re good.)  If I sound just a bit edgy about refrigerator space issues in my home,  the backstory is that  I just tried to refrigerate one of those mammoth Costco watermelons. Believe me, it wasn’t pretty.

Here is my adaptation of a recipe from the August issue of Cook’s. Influenced by Southern Italian cooking, this recipe uses red peppers and ricotta cheese to make a glorious pasta pesto. (I know. I know. Pesto is supposed to be made of basil leaves and pine nuts. Keep an open mind, people!)

The link to the original recipe is posted at the end of this post.

Recipe: Penne with Red Pepper Pesto

3 red bell peppers (stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch wide strips (about 5 cups–it took 3 1/2 peppers for me to get the required 5 cups)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 small onion (chopped)
1 tomato (cored, seeded and chopped)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (I used a combination of Italian basil and Thai basil)
1 t. garlic (minced to a paste)
1/2 t. red pepper flakes (omit if you don’t like spicy food)
1/2 C. whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 C. grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for serving)
1 t. white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1 pound pasta (I used rigati but the recipe calls for penne)

Directions:
In a large non-stick pan, combine 2/3 of the red pepper strips with 1 T. olive oil and 1/4 t. salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until the peppers are soft and begin to brown. This should take about 15 minutes You should stir occasionally.

Add the chopped onion, tomato, basil and the pepper flakes to the pan with the peppers. Also, add 1/2 t. garlic paste. Cook (uncovered) until the onion is soft and beginning to brown at medium heat. This should take about 5 more minutes. Remove your pan from the heat and let is sit and cool for 5 minutes.

Using your blender or food processor, puree the ricotta, Pamesan, remaining one-third of bell peppers, remaining 1/2 t. garlic, 3/4 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper until smooth. Add your cooked bell pepper mixture and puree for about 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and, with the blender running, add vinegar and remaining 2 T. oil and puree for another 20 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend one more time for 20 seconds. Pour the sauce back into the pan.

Boil pasta in 4 quarts salted water until pasta is al dente. This took me about 14 minutes in boiling water. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and pour it into the pot with the pureed sauce. Toss to combine and, if necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water to get the consistency of sauce you like. (I didn’t add any water.)

Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with grated parmesan and sprinkled with a bit of chopped basil.

Cook’s Notes: The pretty black pan pictured in this post is an All-Clad pan. It is beautiful and makes a great presentation on your table. This pan was a generous gift from my good friend and fellow cooking enthusiast, Sarah. This dish is a bit spicy. Omit the red pepper or reduce it if you don’t want your pasta to be spicy.

I served this with a small dollop of ricotta on top of each serving. I suspect that a bit of heavy whipping cream added to the sauce would also be a nice addition.

Here is the link to the original recipe:

Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Red Pepper-Ricotta Pesto Sauce for pasta


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