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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Taking a Dip: Roasted Red Peppers with Creamy Goat Cheese

Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Creamy Goat Cheese

Cooking is easy – you just add heat.” - Don Booth

Don Booth is one of the most animated characters I know. I cannot say his name among our friends without smiling. His colorful antics and determination to make life something more exciting than the life of the average Joe turn even the most common of meetings into occasions. In three simple words: Don loves life. 

Three perfect companions: onion, pepper & tomato
His abandon in cooking is a gift that I wish I could pass along to those of my friends who enjoy food but are intimidated by the kitchen. He is correct when it comes to culinary arts: cooking doesn't have to be complicated. You can spend a lot of money and a lot of hours in the kitchen, only to be left frustrated and standing in a mess – or, you can simplify things and 'just add heat'. A few basic ingredients combined and simmered are often the most rich, satisfying and memorable.

Roasted red peppers are, to me, one of those unforgettable flavors. I have never been a fan of peppers eaten raw, but the transformation that takes place when they are roasted over a flame, or slow simmered on the stove is a miracle of cooking. Their sharp acidity softens and the essence of the bell pepper flavor is exposed. Combine this with other vegetables that behave similarly; onions, tomatoes; and you have a whole new flavor experience.

This is a dip that I often make when end of summer garden produce is plentiful and freeze to use later when I am craving summer sun (now). I have used this as a stuffing for Baked Chicken Breasts, tucking a pat of goat cheese inside as well and I have cooked Italian Sausages in this versatile mixture (sans goat cheese). Those of you who hate the kitchen ~ you know who you are ~ I dare you. Pour a glass of wine or your favorite cocktail and give this a whirl. All you have to do is add heat.

Cheers, Don.

Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Creamy Goat Cheese

Quick and easy fare, this red pepper dip is devoured by my guests whenever I serve it. You can make this from ingredients you probably already have on hand in less than an hour, start to finish. 

Julienned peppers and onions

5 Tbsp Pure Olive Oil
2 Large Fresh Red Bell Peppers
1 Large Sweet Yellow Onion
3 Roma Tomatoes
1 tsp Crushed Garlic
¾ cup water
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Kosher Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper, to taste
6 oz Chevre Cheese

Julienne cut the red peppers and onions. You should have approximately equal amounts by volume. Trim the stem end off the tomatoes and cut them into quarters. Set tomatoes aside. Sip some wine. 

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Once the oil is good and hot, add the peppers and onions. Stir over high heat for about 5 minutes. (The goal is not to brown the veggies, only to quickly break them down.)
Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the garlic and tomatoes. Continue to stir periodically. As veggies begin to release their juices, they may begin to stick. Add water and balsamic vinegar. Continue cooking until veggies are soft. 

Once the veggies are soft (15-20 minutes), use a potato masher to crush them into a chunky texture.
Taste the mixture and season to taste with kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Pour into a oven-proof dish. Place the Chevre cheese into the center of the dip and bake the dish at 375 degrees until hot and bubbly (about 20-25 minutes). Serve with crackers or toasted bread rounds.

Recipe Notes:
  • Julienne cutting vegetables simply means to cut them into approximately equal size, thin strips. The French are VERY precise when they do this and create perfectly exact little matchsticks. The more uniform the cut, the more evenly they cook. That said, I am not French. Don't worry about perfection.
  • Chevre is a creamy white goat cheese about the consistency of cream cheese. It is not too strong and pairs well with the dip.
  • Crushed garlic is a puree of fresh garlic. I love the way it cleanly dissipates into a dish vs. minced garlic whose flavor is sharper and stands out more (and gets stuck in your teeth). You can buy a special tool or use a mortar and pestle to crush your own. I buy mine ready to use.
  • If you decide to freeze this, leave out the goat cheese until you bake it just before serving.
  • If you still hate to cook after making this, come over we'll have a glass of wine together. Consider it therapy.

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