We all have our favorite holiday foods that we look forward to tirelessly, year after year—the holidays just aren’t the holidays without them—but we always like to add at least a few surprises to the table. And as far as we’re concerned, the best way to get the evening (or any time of day) going is to get one in right at the get-go: appetizers. Something new to start off the meal and welcome guests sets just the right tone. (Add a fantastic drink and you’re golden.) When coming up with a new addition, it doesn’t need to be over the top or wildly complicated—in fact, simple is usually better, especially if you’re not just doing appetizers. What’s important is that whatever we make is not only delicious, but beautiful. It should have holiday written all over it. Something gorgeous and festive that you can’t wait to get on your plate goes a long way. (And again, we’re talking simple, not crazy, inedible garnishes and complicated plating that makes it obvious someone’s hands were all up in the food.) And for this year, we chose a new take on an old appetizer stand-by: red peppers.
Red peppers are one of those foods that can take on a totally different flavor depending on how you prepare it. And the appetizer table alone sees plenty of versions: roasted, raw, marinated. All delicious, but maybe a little overdone. Instead of the usual roasted red pepper dip that we’ve all encountered maybe one too many times, here’s a new take that we’re excited to add to our table this year. The beautiful color—a gorgeously vibrant holiday red—and more interesting texture are nice changes all on their own, but then there’s the taste…spicy and tangy and the perfect compliment to something we can’t ever get enough: cheese. (But really, who can? Apologies to the lactose intolerant.) And the thing that makes it even more ideal for the holidays? It’s just so simple to make. That means when you’re rushing around preparing everything else, something you’ll barely have to give a second thought: this perfect appetizer.
This is our version of a Mediterranean spread made by halving and seeding a mixture of sweet and spicy peppers, then letting them dry in the sun for a few days. The flavor of sun-dried peppers is wonderfully concentrated—an entirely new flavor—as with sun-dried tomatoes. But since we are, unfortunately, not under the Tuscan sun these days, we air-dry the peppers in our kitchen instead. Just cut up the peppers, place them on a paper-towel lined baking sheet, and let them dry overnight. The next day, toss them in your food processor, then roast away, and you’re done. The healthful ingredients that make up this simple, beautiful spread means that in addition to being oh so tasty, it also happens to be good for you. (Not that you’ll be giving that much thought while digging into holiday specialties, but it might be nice to remember when you’re going for your third slice of panettone…more on that later.)
We love serving the spread with goat cheese (though Manchego and so many other cheeses would be amazing, too) and a fresh baguette, but we also slather it on sandwiches for days after (make extra!). It’s the perfect way to wake up a boring turkey sandwich!
Let us know what you think!
Allow about one pepper per person and add as much or as little cayenne pepper as you like, depending on how much spice you want. You can easily increase the quantities to make enough for a crowd. We used three large red peppers (1 1/3 lbs) and two dried cayenne peppers for a small group. A word to the wise: When you seed the hot peppers, do yourself a big favor and wear gloves or you’ll be one unhappy camper when you rub your eyes (or literally do just about anything) later. We think using two cayenne peppers makes a medium-hot spread. If that sounds a bit too spicy for you, remember that pairing the spread with other things, like cheese and bread, will mellow out the heat. But, if you don’t like any spice at all, you can certainly leave the hot peppers out altogether and just season with salt and some black pepper instead. Feel just the opposite? Turn up the heat as much as you like and keep the bread handy!
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Red Pepper Spread with Goat Cheese
Oven-proof sauté pan
Preheat oven to 350°F with your oven rack in the middle
– 3 red bell peppers, seeded, halved, and air-dried
– 2 dried cayenne peppers
– 1/2 tsp course salt
– Goat cheese and a loaf of crusty bread for serving
* After the peppers have air-dried, cut them into smaller pieces.
* With the metal blade in place, add the red and cayenne peppers to the bowl of your food
* Process until you get a consistency you like—we like it with some texture— stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the salt and give it a few pulses to mix.
* Pour into your sauté pan and roast for about 30 minutes. Check after 20 to see how things are going. You want all of the liquid to evaporate.
* Remove from the oven and let cool. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve at room temperature.
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