Bell Peppers, one of the best weapons in your arsenal

Roman Roasted Pepper SauceSweet peppers are one of the most versatile and forgiving vegetables around. They can take a beating and come out perfect. Roasting peppers heightens them with an initial frontal mouth-blast before the caramelized sugars kick in for a delicious finish. These red, green and yellow beauties also liven up any pizza, salad or pasta with flavor and color.

In my pizzeria, I just place them on an 18-inch pan and run them through my conveyor oven twice. Then I stick them in a closed lexan to steam the skin off.

If you have a gas burner, just turn it on high and place the pepper directly on the flame until blackened. Keep turning until the whole pepper is black then place in a paper bag or lexan to steam. (The paper bag may get soggy with really juicy peppers.)

When peeling, use a small knife or your finger to scrape the blackened skin off. Reach in the top, pull out the stem and slit the pepper down the middle with your finger discarding all the seeds. To keep flavor, do not run under water, (but that is in a perfect world where you aren’t paying someone $12 an hour to do this.) If you are tired of picking at seeds, just spray with a shot of water and you are done.

ROMAN ROASTED PEPPER SAUCE

I’ve had this numerous times in Rome and it is particularly flavorful on pizza.

1 medium onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
7 anchovy filets
3 to 4 bell peppers, tri color cut into strips
3 green bell peppers, cut into strips
1 cup green olives
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon oregano
½ cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat half of the oil in a medium heated pan and add the garlic and anchovies. Watch for the garlic to cook but not brown. Take a wooden spoon and smash the garlic and anchovies until they become a paste.

Add the peppers, olives and onions and sauté until the peppers are just barely tender and the onions are limp. Let cool for 5 minutes as you mix the remaining oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper and parsley in a bowl to form a dressing. Pour over the pepper mixture and let cool. This is best if kept under refrigeration for at least one day to let flavors meld.

When ready, this mix can be put on pizzas after the oven or tossed with pasta anytime. I’ve even taken an immersion blender and mixed this up to make a pizza sauce. Exquisite!

Chicken and broccoli pizza with a Roman roasted pepper sauce and banana peppers

TRADITIONAL ROMESCO FROM CATALAN, SPAIN

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper

7 ripe Roma tomatoes
1 medium onion, diced
2 heads of garlic with the heads cut off
3 ancho chilies or mild peppers

¼ cup blanched almonds
1 medium hoagie roll or quarter baguette (about 2 to 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon sweet Spanish paprika
Salt to taste

Place the bell pepper, tomatoes, the head of garlic and ancho chilies on a large pizza pan. Toss half the oil on them and roast in your pizza oven until all the vegetables are charred and mushy. The garlic should be soft to the touch.

When the veggies are roasted, let cool enough to take the skins and seeds out of the pepper. Deseed the tomato and de-skin the garlic and onion. Cut the tops off and remove stems.

Take a small pizza pan

and roast the almonds under heat until they just start to brown. Be careful, nuts burn fast! Cut the bread into chunks and toast in the oven.

Place all ingredients including the rest of the oil, sherry vinegar, paprika, salt and bread in a blender or bowl and buzz with an immersion blender. Blend until a thick sauce forms. You can tweak as needed.

GRILLED COCA DE RECAPTE

The small towns in the Catalan region of Spain had a fixed time where people could use the bakery’s wood-fired oven to make their flatbreads. The townsfolk went from house to house to gather ingredients to put on this wood-fired flatbread, called Coca De Recapte. Some cocas are sweet and some savory, some square and some football shaped, some thin and some thick. Some use egg and milk in the dough, some don’t. Does this sound familiar, like pizza everywhere these days?

One of my favorites uses a mix of wood-fired and charred vegetables called Escalivada. It includes onion, eggplant, sweet peppers and tomato to which townspeople add sausage, sardine or anchovy at the height of summer.

1 yellow onion
½ or ¾ red pepper (if you like roasted red pepper, please use a whole one)
1 medium eggplant
2 small zucchini
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for brushing vegetables
3 yellow tomatoes
Grated Manchego cheese (You can substitute Asiago or white cheddar.)

Lemon juice and more olive oil for garnish Turn your grill or pizza oven on high and wait for the temperature to reach 450 to 475 F.

Cut the onion in half lengthwise and using a metal skewer, skewer both halves. Cut off the ends of the zucchini. Using a mandolin or knife, cut the zucchini into strips of 1/16th of an inch-(fairly thin but thick enough to withstand a hot grill.)

Brush all the vegetables with the olive oil and place on the grill.

The zucchini will cook first. Remove them from the grill when limp and grill marked. Close the lid of the grill after turning the other vegetables. Grill covered, turning frequently until the red pepper is charred, the onion is moist and limp, and the eggplant looks like a deflated balloon
with a soft center. Place all in a cool place for at least 10 minutes.

Cut the end of the eggplant and peel the skin back, revealing the warm flesh. Keep pulling the skin back and pull the flesh out in strips.

Peel off the red pepper’s black skin and discard it with any seeds and the top. Cut the flesh into ½ inch strips.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters, then cut the inside flesh out and save for salads.

Cut the grilled onion into ½-inch petals after cutting off the ends.

Reserve all these vegetables next to the grill.

Using a 9- to 10-ounce dough ball, form into a football shape and stretch the ends even more.

Place the grated Manchego, already grilled vegetables and oiled dough to the grill. You are now ready to grill the Cocas.

Heat the grill to high or 450 F, quickly brush oil onto the grill, using a paper towel. Place both elongated doughs on the grill and wait only 2 to 3 minutes before checking the bottom. By now, the dough will have hardened enough to move. Check the underside and move according to your grill marks. Wait another minute and turn over.

Immediately top with the cheese and the vegetables.

Close the lid to get heat to the top of the cocas but beware — watch the bottom of the dough, as it will burn very quickly.

When the bottom cannot take any more cooking and is browning nicely, take the cocas off and serve immediately with sherry vinegar, a spritz of lemon or even the Romesco sauce.

John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio. He is speaker at International Pizza Expo and a member of the World Pizza Champions.

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