Shells with Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce
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To say that the move north — from the weeks of packing to the two-day drive to the week of unpacking — has taken a toll on the children’s diet would be an understatement. There has been too much takeout, too many salty snacks, too many drive-thru visits. And I fear there has been irreparable damage: A few days ago when I pointed to a bunch of carrots in one of Graham’s favorite books, he, with complete confidence, identified them as, “hotdogs.”
Oiy. In this season of vegetable bounty, there is no excuse. I immediately set to work making a pasta sauce — sauce counts as a vegetable, right? — I learned years ago from The Tra Vigne Cookbook, a recipe Michael Chiarello learned from Jacques Pèpin. In the book, Chiarello pairs the sauce with stuffed chicken thighs and notes that any leftover sauce can be used to poach fish roulades, no doubt a suggestion made by Pèpin.
3-Step Red Pepper Tomato Sauce
There are three distinct phases that occur when making this sauce, and once you can identify them, you’ll never need to refer to this recipe again:
- In phase one, diced tomatoes and peppers simmer with a small amount of water.
- In phase two, the peppers and tomatoes release their juices and the ratio of liquid to solids increases dramatically.
- In phase three, the peppers and tomatoes become meltingly tender and begin sticking to the bottom of the pan as the last bit of liquid evaporates.
After this transformation, which takes about 25 minutes, into the blender go the vegetables along with a handful of basil, a dab of butter and a drizzling of olive oil. Whizzed into a light orange purée, the finished sauce can be used on anything from pizza to eggplant involtini to simple shells garnished with shaved Pecorino, a dish adored by picky children and agreeable adults alike.
To me this sauce is the essence of summer, and while I can’t promise it will work miracles on your toddler’s vocabulary, it might help make strides. Last night, when I pointed to a tomato in the same favorite book, Graham exclaimed, “Apple!” I’ve never been so proud.
Finally, I just want to thank you all so much for your kind words in regard to the last post. Also, we, or Ben I should say, added another panel of pegboard to one of our kitchen walls. While it is a relatively simple project, I wrote up a rough how-to guide in case any of you are interested and need a little direction:
Pot filled with 2 cups tomatoes, 2 cups bell peppers, and 1/2 cup water:
After about 25 minutes of simmering, the sauce will start looking like this. It’s almost ready for the blender at this point:
Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 2 cups
Inspired by a red pepper tomato sauce in The Tra Vigne Cookbook, the book that introduced me to summer squash spaghetti, another favorite recipe this time of year.
- 2 red bell peppers, stemmed and seeded, diced to yield about 2 cups
- 2 beefsteak tomatoes, diced to yield about 2 cups
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Place peppers and tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan or pot. Pour in 1/2 cup water and turn heat to high. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to medium high. Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- After about five minutes, the tomatoes and peppers will begin to release their juices, and the whole mixture should be bubbling. Adjust the heat if necessary so that the mixture stays at a constant bubble — medium to medium-high should do it. Stir every five minutes or so to make sure the tomatoes and peppers are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. If they are, add water by the 1/4 cup.
- When the peppers and tomatoes are tender and nearly all of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to stick to pot, add the basil, butter, and oil to the pot, give it a stir, then transfer the contents of the pot to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as necessary.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
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78 Comments on “Shells with Red Pepper-Tomato Sauce”
This has become a fortnightly family favourite. Just delish. Thank you so much!
Yay!! so happy to hear this, Sarah!!
Doubled the recipe (4 tomatoes/peppers, 4 table spoon olive oil, 20 leaves of basil and 125 grams of butter). Needed 35 minutes to get the needed consisty.
Cooking for 4 people this is the minimum amount of sauce in my opinion.
The recipe is great. Thank you for that!
Do you have experience with higher amounts and cooking times?
I would like to make 6 or 8 times the recipe and therefore the needed time would be good to know.
If you want to do 8 times the recipe, I would just multiply the quantities by 8. You could probably cut back a little bit on the olive oil and butter — use your judgement. And I think you could also probably cut back the water. Honestly, I think a cup of water will probably suffice because the tomatoes and peppers will release so much liquid of their own. The crucial step is observing when the liquids have reduced considerably, which signals the flavors have concentrated and it’s ready to purée.
Hope that helps somewhat … let me know if you have any other questions .
Thank you for your explanation.
I will give it a try the next time.
Thanks again for your great recipe.
This is the best sauce ever, a real game changer using peppers like this!
So nice to hear this! I love this one, too 🙂 🙂 🙂
This sauce tastes like something I’d eat at a fancy restaurant and wonder how the chef made it, having no idea how simple it is to make. Thank you for sharing this recipe! Its so easy to make several batches at one go and freeze in individual portions for a quick meal.
So nice to hear this, Nisha! This is one of my favorites as well. Every time I make it I am blown away by its simplicity and flavor.
I tried this comes out great recepie rating five star
This recipe was BOMB! I added an onion and some garlic to the saucepan with the peppers and tomato and it was fantastic. Truly a game-changer!
Great to hear, Sam! Thanks so much for writing 🙂 🙂 🙂
Yup. Us too, garlic and shallots. A great recipe and we love it, over and over.
Great to hear! Thanks for writing 🙂
Wow! I was hesitant – no blanching/peeling of the tomatoes? no roasting of the peppers? No sauted onion? No slow cooking down? Was it really going to be good. Yep! Amazing! I didn’t really measure but stuck to a 50/50 tomato and red pepper. It is so easy and delicious. I then made a giant batch after the first to put up in the freezer.
I’m so happy to read all of this, Kathy! And I couldn’t agree more … it doesn’t seem like it would add up, but it does! Yay 🙂 🙂 🙂
This is a great sauce and very versatile! I had lots of cherry tomatoes so used those with red and orange peppers. No fresh basil right now so substituted a mix of dried basil and Italian seasoning (plus Chili pepper flakes for a bit of heat). Made as directed and mixed the sauce with penne and some grated grana padano. It was delicious and I’m looking forward to making this again this winter and also with fresh basil and regular tomatoes, especially from the garden in the summer. Thank you!
Wonderful to read this, Sandra! Thanks so much for writing and sharing your notes 🙂