Quick puree from the peck of peppers (unpickled, please) you or Peter Piper pick

August 17, 1994|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

Among the many culinary innovations of the past three decades, perhaps nothing has changed more profoundly than sauce preparation.

Made-from-scratch stocks, requiring hours of cooking time, skill and patience, are being replaced with simpler sauces such as those made with vegetable purees. Enriched in a variety of ways, vegetable purees make the most user-friendly sauces imaginable.

Although a variety of vegetables can be used to produce vegetable puree-based sauces, the most colorful and flavorful are those made from sweet red or yellow bell peppers.

Sweet pepper purees can be made easily at home in practically no time. Once cooked, by roasting or simmering in olive oil, the bell peppers can be pureed and stored for a week in the refrigerator or for three months in the freezer.

Such purees can be used in countless sauce variations: mixed with vinaigrette, mayonnaise or butter to create instant sauces for pasta, grilled fish or shellfish, chicken or vegetables or delicious dips.

I always make double the amount, so half can be frozen for later. Pepper purees are great to have on hand to "fancy-up" quick meals.

Not only can they make instant sauces, but they can be combined with chicken or vegetable broth to make mouth-watering soup. Make one pot of soup with red-pepper puree and another with yellow. Pour each color soup simultaneously on opposite sides of the soup bowl and create a two-tone presentation.

Roasted Pepper Puree

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

4 red (or yellow) bell peppers

1/4 cup olive oil or chicken (or vegetable) broth

vinaigrette, optional

Peppers can be roasted on a grill or under a broiler.

To broil: Line a baking sheet or jelly-roll pan with a large sheet of aluminum foil. Place broiler rack about 10 inches below broiler element; heat broiler. Place bell peppers in a single layer on prepared sheet. Place under broiler and lightly char peppers (rotating every few minutes so all sides are charred). Pull sides of aluminum foil up to enclose the peppers for 5 minutes. Open the foil. When cool enough to handle, peel, seed and core the peppers.

To grill: Place peppers on a heated grill. Using tongs, rotate peppers until lightly charred on all sides. Place peppers in a bag for 5 minutes (or enclose in aluminum foil) to steam. Remove from bag or foil. When cool enough to handle, peel, seed and core the peppers.

Place peppers in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until smooth. Add either olive oil or broth; process until smooth.

Simmered Pepper Puree

Makes about 2 cups

4 red or yellow bell peppers, cored and seeded, coarsely chopped

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

pinch of dried red pepper flakes (omit if using yellow peppers)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

vinaigrette, optional

Simmer all ingredients, except the optional vinaigrette, in a medium saucepan for 30 minutes on low heat, stirring mixture frequently and adding a little more olive oil if necessary to prevent scorching. Puree mixture in food processor fitted with the metal blade until smooth. This mixture will be thick and will need to be thinned. Whisk (or process) vinaigrette or a little chicken broth or olive oil into the puree. Strain through a medium sieve.

To create an instant sauce that can be used with grilled seafood, poultry or pasta, add a light vinaigrette to the final pureed mixture. To make vinaigrette, combine 1/2 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup rice vinegar; stir and add garlic salt to taste. Either whisk the vinaigrette into the Roasted Bell Pepper Puree or add it to the food processor and process until blended.

Two-Color Pepper Purees With Grilled Shrimp

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Bamboo skewers, soaked in water at least 20 minutes

2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/3 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary

salt and pepper to taste

1 recipe red bell pepper puree combined with vinaigrette

1 recipe yellow bell pepper puree combined with vinaigrette

Heat grill or broiler. Thread 4 to 6 shrimp on each bamboo skewer. Combine olive oil and minced fresh rosemary. Generously brush with olive oil-rosemary mixture. Grill or broil about 2 minutes a side or until shrimp are just cooked through. Season with salt and pepper.

For the most dramatic presentation, make yellow and red bell pepper purees, augmenting each with vinaigrette. Pour a puddle of yellow and a puddle of red puree near each other on the bottom of each dinner plate. Top with grilled shrimp.

This dish is delicious and very simple.

Easy Portuguese Potatoes: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice 4 potatoes into 3/4 -inch thick slices and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss. Place, in a single layer, on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons ground coriander. Bake 45 minutes (or until lightly browned and cooked). Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.

Sarah Scott's Leek and Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli

Serves 4 as first course; 8 as entree)

RAVIOLI:

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