January 3, 2011

Ragù di Peperoni e Pomodori (Roasted Pepper and Tomato Ragu)

I really enjoy good food, but I don't necessarily want to spend all day every day slaving over a hot stove. Having a Ragù di Peperoni e Pomodori sitting in the refrigerator means I can have the flavor of hours of cooking in just a few minutes.

Ragù di Peperoni e Pomodori
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, diced
2 roasted peppers (capsicum), ½" dice
1-28 oz or 2-14.5 oz cans tomatoes, diced
6 cloves garlic confit
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning (optional)
1 cup red wine
½ teaspoon porcini powder
1 teaspoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley and rosemary (mixed)
baslamic vinegar to taste
kosher salt to taste
granulated sugar to taste

First the prep work. If you can roast the peppers over open flame, they'll taste better, but if not, roasting under the broiler will work just fine. I roasted half a dozen peppers at the same time and used 1 whole red pepper plus half each orange and yellow; the rest went into the freezer for later. It was a nice mix, but all red would be excellent and perhaps a bit sweeter. As for the onion, carrot, and celery, you're looking for approximately equal portions, so dice the onion first, then guesstimate how much carrot and celery you'll need.

If it's tomato season where you live, peel, seed, and dice half a dozen or so tomatoes and use half the amount of canned tomatoes called for. If you can, use canned San Marzano tomatoes. Remember that canned tomatoes have a deeper, more acidic flavor than fresh, so there will be adjustments at the end. Drain the canned tomatoes before adding them to the pot, and if they aren't already diced, give them a rough dice.

Start by adding the olive oil to a largish pan over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until well softened and slightly brown.

Add the peppers and fresh tomatoes (if using). Continue stirring frequently and cook until the liquid from the peppers and fresh tomatoes is mostly gone. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning (if using), and garlic confit. If you don't have garlic confit, use 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced. If you don't have or don't want to use Italian seasoning, use some dried herbs like oregano and basil at this point. The dried herbs add depth of flavor unavailable otherwise. Fresh herbs won't work here, because their essential oils will evaporate long before cooking is done. Simmer, stirring often, until the liquid from the tomatoes is mostly gone.

Deglaze the pan with about half the cup of wine and simmer to reduce. When the wine is mostly gone, add the remaining wine and simmer.

Now is the time for balancing. Achieving a balanced agrodolce (sweet and sour) is the most important step. The balance you're looking for is exemplified by a fine balsamic vinegar. You can taste the bite of acid and a deep natural sweetness at the same time. If the flavor is too acidic, it will taste thin, even metallic. Too much sweetness tastes cloying. A proper balance will have zing and depth.

Taste the ragù. If it tastes a bit flat, add some salt. Stir well and wait a couple of minutes to let the new flavor settle before tasting again. Be sure you use a new spoon for each tasting. Double-dipping is a bad habit both for health and taste reasons. A dirty spoon doesn't let you taste the product in the pan, it gives you an unbalanced mixture of old and new.

When you're satisfied with the salt level, pay close attention to the balance of acid and sweet. I use balsamic vinegar to tune the balance. If after adding a splash or two I still need some sweetness, I'll add a teaspoon of sugar. If you've added some sugar and the ragù still tastes too acidic or sour, add another pinch of salt. If it still needs sweetness, then add more sugar. Remember that you're only adding sugar to bring out the natural sweetness of the peppers.

Having invested a couple of hours, how can you use this ragù? It's lovely as a pasta sauce by itself, of course. I've also used it to flavor baked chicken and pork. On New Year's Eve, unexpected guests needed some refreshment, so I quickly sliced some bread, made crostini, and then topped the crostini with a spoonful of this ragù and some grated cheese and put them under the broiler for a moment to make some quick bruschetta.

You can also use the ragù to extend leftovers. I had a bit of roasted leg of lamb sitting in the refrigerator, barely enough for one serving. I quickly diced it and mixed it with some of this ragù. A few minutes of simmering while some penne cooked, and it made a delightful meal for two.

Next, a classic brioche from Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads by Ciril Hitz.


  1. [...] Ragù di Peperoni e Pomodori (Roasted Pepper and Tomato Ragu) [...]

  2. This ragu looks amazing! I've never made mine with roasted peppers, but this looks amazing, so I'll definitely have to try!

  3. I keep hearing about the importance of vinegar to bring out the sweetness in foods, or to balance out flavors. I just threw away our old bottle, becase the flavor wasn't very good (too vinegary!), so I'm on the lookout for a nice bottle of balsamic vinegar.

  4. I always keep a bottle of Villa Manodori Balsamic Vinegar around. It's fairly spendy, but worth every penny as far as I'm concerned. The flavor is perfectly balanced, with plenty of dried currant as the predominant fruit flavor.

  5. Thanks! Be sure to come back and tell us how it turned out.

  6. We have a veggie garden so at the end of September I roll up my sleeves, peel tomatoes, roast peppers, and make a few jars of Ragu because we use it a lot, and it's sooo gooooood! :) I've never put porcini powder in mine...thank you for the tip...I'll do it next season!

  7. Agrodolce - new word for me! I like also how you mention to use a different spoon for each tasting - I hate when people double dip!

  8. This one wins the versatility award of the day! Lamb, pasta, chicken, crostini, etc., etc.! Two questions... Garlic confit... do you have a method you prefer? And porcini powder... do you recommend a source? I can see how using it is a stroke of genius for adding depth of flavor to many, many things. Thanks for the tip.

  9. I only got 4 tomatoes last year. Hope the tomato gods are more
    generous this year!

  10. I often go through a dozen spoons when I'm "adjusting to taste."
    Dishwashers hate me. ;-)

  11. Thanks! For the confit, see my Garlic Confit post. If you have a local Italian grocer, Whole Foods, New Seasons, or EarthFare, get porcini powder there. Otherwise the Porcini Powder from JR Mushroom Specialties on Amazon is good stuff.

  12. How do you store the Ragu? I see you have yours in a lovely glass jar. Does that go in the fridge or on the counter?

  13. Good question. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. It may last longer but I haven't tested. It could probably be pressure canned, but again, I haven't tested it. It will also freeze if you want to store for 2-3 months.

  14. Ah it's nice to have stuff like this stored in the fridge for future use, what a time saver! Thanks for sharing!

  15. that looks awesome. I like having things somewhat premade ahead of time. I'd love to toss this with some penne for a quick dinner. great post!

  16. Yum! I've never used porcini powder before!

  17. Double Tomato Bruschetta...

    Ingredients 6roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped1/2cupsun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil3cloves garlic, minced1/4cupolive oil1/4cupfresh basil, stems removed1/4teaspoonsalt1/4teaspoonground black pepper1French baguette2cupsmozzarella cheese, shredded ......

  18. I really like this recipe, and in summer when my tomatoes come in I need lots of ideas. I like the idea also of putting it on crostini. Maybe I'll make a big batch and give some to my friends. Thanks!

  19. It's a good idea to make a large batch so you have plenty to use
    yourself yet also enough to give gifts. And it is better with fresh
    tomatoes, or at least the ones you put up last Fall.

  20. I like this recipe. How much does it yield?

  21. That's a good question to which I don't actually have an answer. As I recall, the jar in the photo is 500 mL, There's a good bit of reduction in the cooking, so I'd say half a liter, or a generous pint is what this recipe will yield.