Home With The Lost Italian: Roasting up flavor — Red Pepper Pesto perfectly complements steaks, pasta
Red peppers are the latest crop coming into harvest in our garden, and we’ve been blessed with an abundance this year. Roasting red peppers is a classic Italian tradition and a specialty of Tony’s mother, Marianna.
We shared her recipe, Marianna’s Roasted Red Peppers, five years ago. It can be enjoyed on its own as a side dish or tossed in with pastas and salads, and one of our favorite ways to showcase this specialty is in our Roasted Red Pepper Pesto.
Pesto comes from the Italian word “pestare,” which means to pound or crush as the ingredients were traditionally ground together using a mortar and pestle. Thanks to the convenience of modern technology, a food processor simplifies this process, making it possible to whip up a pesto in about 15 minutes from start to finish.
I love the simplicity and versatility of a pesto. They are easy to make, store well in the refrigerator for at least a week, are great for freezing and can be used in a variety of ways. This Roasted Red Pepper Pesto is a perfect complement for grilled steaks, pasta and bruschetta.
Roasting the red peppers builds great flavor and gives them a wonderful, smoky sweetness. Roasting peppers is a simple process, but you can also forego this step and purchase them already roasted in jars at the grocery store.
For this recipe, we combine roasted red peppers with sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts or pine nuts, red wine vinegar, parmesan cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and oil. Sun-dried tomatoes have intense flavor so you’ll only need a small amount here, but their natural sweetness further enhances the flavor of the peppers.
Nuts are a standard ingredient in most pestos and essential for building both flavor and texture. In the past, we’ve used either walnuts or pine nuts for this recipe, and almonds would also work well. Whichever nut you choose, for maximum flavor I highly recommend toasting them before adding to the pesto.
The addition of red wine vinegar brings a touch of acidity that helps balance the sweetness of the roasted peppers and sun-dried tomatoes, and freshly grated parmesan cheese takes the flavor profile to the next level.
For spice, we add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes, and you could also add a hot pepper for extra heat. We typically use olive oil for its flavor when making an uncooked dish, but we used canola oil the last time we made this pesto with great results.
All the ingredients, save the oil, are blitzed together in the food processor until they are coarsely combined, and then the oil is added in a slow, steady stream. The slowness is important here, as adding the oil too quickly will prevent it from properly emulsifying into the pesto.
Easy to make, versatile and elegant to serve, this pesto makes a perfect late-summer side dish. Enjoy.
“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
Makes: about 2 cups
1 cup roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
2 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts or 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 to 1/3 cup canola or olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a food processor, add the roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, nuts, vinegar, parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the mixture appears coarsely combined.
Turn the processor on and pour the oil into the feed tube in a slow, steady stream, starting with 1/4 cup. Add more oil if needed until the pesto achieves a smooth consistency. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Serve as a topping for grilled meats and bruschetta, toss with pasta or use as a flavor builder in salads.