Wrinkly Peppers is a disorder of the refrigerator. Common symptoms include a reluctance to open the salad drawer and a lingering sense of guilt. Associated disorders can include Wrinkly Tomatoes and Withered Basil.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I buy fruit and veg with the best of intentions, only to either forget or fall out with the idea that I had to use them up. So they sit in the fridge and look sad until I have to throw them out. We all know that wasting food is Not On, so when I contracted a mild case of Wrinkly Peppers again recently I decided to step up and not let the usual cycle commence. I had two and a half peppers and a few tomatoes in the same boat, all with slightly puckered skin and, in the case of the tomatoes, a slightly squishy feel to them. None of the veg was mouldy or smelled suspicious, it was just a bit old and, literally, past its salad days.
You can see what I mean here: that tomato looks like a balloon three days after a party, one that you’ve found down behind the couch after you thought all the cleaning up was done. Poor soul.
When I made oven dried tomatoes recently, it opened my eyes a bit to the sheer waste of throwing out any fruit or veg that could be preserved in this way. Even if these ones aren’t perfectly fresh to start with, what does it matter? They’ll end up wrinkled and dried anyway; if anything, this is an advantage. Using slightly over-ripe tomatoes means that you end up with a really powerful flavour in the end result; especially if you’re using tomatoes from the supermarket, the ‘ripe’ fruit can be watery and anaemic, so you have to wait until it’s practically fermenting to get any flavour from it, by which time it’s too sharp and maybe even a bit fizzy. I promise you that if you oven dry them, you will not have fizzy tomatoes.
I sliced up the peppers into long strips, and cut the tomatoes into two or three – they were quite a small variety. I drizzled them with basil oil and sprinkled with smoked salt, then mixed to coat everything in that heady combination of flavours.
I dried in the oven at 100C for an hour and a half, checking and turning as necessary to make sure everything dried evenly and nothing scorched too much. You don’t mind a bit of a charred edge but you don’t want full-on burnt flavours. At the end of the process, they looked like this:
A bit caramelised in places (especially the peppers) but generally still soft and sticky, and the smell? Wonderful. So fresh and fragrant – how could I have ever thought of throwing this out? I must have been mad. Now, what to do with them? Well, you could use them in frittatas, rice dishes, casseroles, sandwiches or bread dough. You could process them up to make a vibrant tomato and pepper puree for use in stews, soups, pasta sauce or humus. What I did was put the tomatoes in a jar and cover with oil, to use as I go along. The peppers I added to a pizza sauce, which you can see a sneaky peek at here:
It’s a quick sauce, the recipe for which goes as follows:
- 200g tinned chopped tomatoes
- 2 cloves smoked garlic
- 2 1/2 peppers, cut into strips and oven dried (not a great measurement, really…)
- a tiny squeeze of umami paste (not even 1/4 teaspoon. This stuff is strong)
- salt and pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients except salt and pepper in a food processor or blender, and process until as smooth as you like. I didn’t insist on it being perfectly smooth, leaving a few little scraps of pepper made for a more interesting sauce in my opinion. Taste and season.
I think a pizza sauce should taste good, of course, but not have too much going on. The addition of peppers elevates this one above your standard tomato sauce, which in itself is light years above the bitter tomato puree they tried to teach me to use as a pizza sauce when I was at school. Even then I knew something wasn’t right… The umami paste replaces the more common anchovy paste. You have to be careful with it, a little goes a really, really long way. It contains anchovies, tomatoes, parmesan and mushrooms for that deep, savoury flavour that some people call ‘umami’ and some would probably just call ‘salty’.
I’m currently developing a kick-ass pizza recipe, from dough to toppings. I’ll be giving you the recipe in installments, as I get each part right. The pizza sauce is good to go – and luckily this recipe makes enough for three or four pizzas, depending on size and on how much sauce you load on there. So, let us call it phase one of the Pizza Endeavour, and consider it a success.