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Pasta with Tomato-Bellpepper Sauce

Posted by Marco Antonio Mendoza Friday, January 28, 2011


Yesterday in order to kill the boredom of being under house arrest (not literally) I decided to cook lunch for the two of us.  Work is totally awful this month and I have been stuck in perpetual vacation status until further notice and while that might not sound so bad you should probably take into consideration the fact that Zdenka and I are practically counting down the days now until Rosemary is born.  Zdenka's condition has made it hard for her to walk which means she gets tired easily, and I mean EASILY, after one or two blocks she is so winded that she has to rest and often it's hard for her to push forward.  This has led us to spend quite a lot of time indoors.  Anyways with limited options for entertainment in my home I decided to cook as it is one of the few things that I enjoy doing while at home.  For yesterday's lunch the unanimous vote was made for the family favorite of pasta in red sauce, not very original but a dish that is well on it's way to perfection. 

I have said it more than once and I will continue to proclaim my love for community marketplaces in Peru.  In my opinion they beat any supermarket in the US hands down in produce any day of the week.  Fresh and inexpensive make it easy to cook wonderful meals from scratch.  All the vegetables that you see in the photos above only cost me S/.2 which is almost $1!!!!!  To make this wonderful pasta favorite we needed red onion, bell pepper, carrots, tomatoes, pasta, oregano, basil, cumin, tomato paste, bay leaves, garlic, and paprika.  Most of these ingredients make up the wonderful red sauce. 


For the onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes I like to cut them in halves and then grab a skillet or frying pan placed on med-high.  I add a little bit of vegetable oil or olive oil and fry the vegetables on one-side until they are a little charred.  I am not 100% sure but I believe that by doing this the vegetables sugars are caramelized in the process giving them a stronger flavor.  For the tomatoes and bell pepper I like to then place them in a plastic zip bag and let them smoke for at least an hour or so.  This makes the outer skin peel off very easily when I dice them up later.  The next step for me is usually to dice the onion, garlic, and carrots into small pieces.  Once this is done I grab a medium sized sauce pan/pot and on medium with a bit of olive oil, I fry the onion and garlic until golden brown.  Once the onion and garlic are golden in color I then add the carrots with a bit of powdered cumin and paprika (the powdered ingredients are all measured to taste, but I would recommend using very little cumin and paprika in the sauce as they tend to be very strong flavors).  This is all mixed together to make what Peruvians here call Sofrito, which will the base of the sauce.  after about  5-10 minutes I turn the heat down to med-low and add the an additional ingredient which may not be available in the US called Aji Panca paste (a paste made from the red Aji pepper), this gives the sauce an additional level of flavor that is subtle but a wonderful addition.  After this I push all of the mixture to the inside corners of the sauce pan, leaving the center exposed and pour the tomato paste into the middle where the heat will help to break down the pastes acidity (I also add just a pinch or two of sugar to help in this process).  After another 5 minutes I finally add the tomatoes and the bell pepper into the mix and let simmer for another 10 minutes on low.

Photo of my wife Zdenka preparing the pasta

Above you can see the tomatoes being fried on one side


After the ten minutes are up I turn off the heat and let sit for a few minutes before transferring it to the blender where it is then liquefied.  This process goes smoothly when you do it in batches rather than all at once, also I add a little bit of water to help it reach a puree like consistency.  Once the sauce is in puree for I place it in a separate bowl while I place the original sauce pan on the stove under low heat.  They say that when cooking the essence of flavor of a dish often is left stuck to the pan or pot, which is why it's so important to not leave it behind.  To do this I grab a red wine (we have wine from Chincha of the Southern coast of Peru) and add a splash or two to the pan and let that alcohol clean the pan and collect all those tiny bits and morsels of flavor goodness.  I let the wine simmer for about 5 minutes to cook off the alcohol (it's not a religious sin to cook with alcohol since in most preparations the heat burns off the alcohol only leaving behind the flavor, so relax!), once this is done I transfer the sauce into the pan with the wine.  IMPORTANT at this point you need to be prepared and move quick as the sauce will start to bubble and spit hot sauce everywhere.  This is where I add black pepper, salt, oregano, bay leaves, and basil leaves, they will help to really bring the sauce together and give it it's final form.  Let the sauce sit for another 10 minutes on low and then serve hot.  I like to serve this dish with a little fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  To make this dish you will need the follow to make the red sauce:


INGREDIENTS FOR THE TOMATO-BELL PEPPER SAUCE

  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • a handful of fresh basil leaves (Albahaca in Spanish)
  • salt (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 2 teaspoons of Aji Panca paste (about 20 peruvian cents worth) Optional
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • dried oregano (to taste)
  • olive oil
  • pasta (I prefer screw pasta or fettuccine, but any thick pasta will do)
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 tablespoons of garlic
  • 3-4 bay leaves (In Peru these are called Laureles and they usually come with a wild black mushroom)

2 comments

  1. Kelly Says:
  2. Great recipe! Looks delicious. :) Peruvian food is getting more popular in the US, usually people can find aji panca in Latin markets - if not, they can buy it at Amazon.com of all places.

     
  3. Thanks it's nothing special but since I am asked by my wife to prepare it alot the dish has really improved!

    In Portland, Oregon it's often hard to find Peruvian products but there are a few international markets that sell some.

     

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