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.