It’s been 3 1/2 years since I’ve had any sort of tomato-based sauce*. Do you know how many foods contain tomato sauce, paste or both? It’s been a long 42 months.
The why of this has to do with an unfortunate hiccup in my health and there’s many other things I’ve had to eliminate (caffeine, for one) or cut way back on over the years but concentrated tomatoey goodness has been one of the things I’ve missed the most. Over time I’ve gotten to the point where I can tolerate a slice or two of fresh tomato on a salad or sandwich (once a week or so) without illness but it’s not the same. I’ve wondered for a while if there was a way I could “fake” a red sauce for spaghetti, pizza, etc. but never tried it until a few weeks ago with a red bell pepper sauce that has improved my personal food landscape many times over.
Since that first foray over whole wheat spaghetti, we’ve used it on stuffed (green) bell peppers, a delicious lasagna and, now, pizza with wonderful results. It doesn’t taste exactly like tomato sauce, but with careful seasoning there’s usually only a taste or two per meal where the switch is readily apparent.
Red Pepper Sauce
5 red bell peppers, diced, or 2 jars roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
4 green onions, sliced
3 cloves (or more) garlic, minced
1/2 Tbsp paprika
1/2-3/4 c Chicken stock
Olive oil, salt and pepper
Saute the onions and garlic in oil until the whites of the onions are translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer until the peppers are tender: 20 minutes or more if using fresh peppers, 10 or so if using canned–gives it time to absorb the other flavors. Add salt and pepper to taste along with any other spices you want. Puree everything smooth (a stick blender makes this so much easier) and then re-season if necessary.
That’s the basic sauce recipe. The jarred peppers are a good substitute for when fresh are either unavailable or cost-prohibitive, plus they cut down your cooking time. What spices you add will depend on what you’re using the sauce on. For Italian, add the usual oregano, thyme, basil and whatever else you like.
You can stretch the sauce by using more stock–we like ours thick for most things, but if you like a thinner sauce go up to a cup and a quarter of stock and this recipe will make about a quart of sauce (depends on how much water is in the peppers, too), thicker it might be closer to a pint. It freezes wonderfully, so you can definitely make up a big batch when peppers are plentiful (you can also use some yellows in there, too, it just makes the sauce a little more orange) and put it away for later.
We’d been planning to try it out as a pizza sauce but hadn’t gotten around to it when we had the following conversation, Thursday night:
Todd: I got some extra roasted red peppers if we wanted to make more of that sauce.
Jenn: Ooh, yeah, we haven’t tried it on pizza yet. Maybe we could do that this weekend?
Todd: (looking at his place which included grilled naan) I wonder if you could make naan-pizza.
Jenn: Why not? Mmm, Indian spices in the sauce–what toppings would we use?
So, Saturday we headed out for provisions: more naan, lamb, and some goat cheese. The end result was an amazing pizza that was way more filling that we thought it would be.
1 cup Red Pepper Sauce seasoned with cumin, coriander, garam masala, and a touch of mint and cinnamon
1 pkg Naan (2 pieces per package)
3/4 lb lamb, ground or cut into small chunks
Flour for dusting
1/2 lb sugar snap peas, chopped
1/2 c diced red onion
Salt and pepper
4 oz cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 oz crumbed goat cheese
Preheat your over to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a backing sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. Lay out the naan and drizzle with a bit of olive oil, salt and some granulated garlic, if you like. Divide the Red Pepper Sauce evenly between the two naan and top with some more minced garlic.
Season the lamb with salt and pepper and, if using whole meat instead of ground, dredge it lightly in flour. I happened to have some Pani Puri (semolina flour) left over from an Andalusian feast I did a while back so I used that, but any flour should do. Saute in olive oil until browned, then add peas and onion and cook until the lamb is done. Divide this mixture between the two naan. Divide the two cheeses evenly among the pizzas.
Bake the pizzas about 15 minutes or until the cheese has started to melt and brown on the tips. Goat and cream cheeses don’t really melt the way mozzarella does, so you have to trust the browning rather than the smoothing out that you usually get on a pizza.
We served it with a bit of prepared Tabbouleh on some mixed lettuces. You can, of course, try other meats or just a combination of veggies on this and it would be equally good. I think that adding a bit of yogurt to the pepper sauce would make a wonderful curry sauce, too, with just a bit more seasoning.
*That is to say, without becoming ill–unfortunately I’ve been reminded the hard way of just how many things contain enough tomato paste or sauce to cause a reaction.5