Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sauce, Salsa, Spread


The word ‘salsa’ ignites deep feelings of joy and passion in me. I love salsa—the steady beat of the conga drums, the horn solos and the flying freedom of well-executed spins and turns.

Salsas--the edible kind--incite as much excitement in me as the dance. The flavors twist and turn, opening with a hint of sweet before the peppers’ sting. The heat might be followed by the high notes of a fruit, balanced by the low noted of grilled onions, or embraced by a burst of citrus.

I am particularly obsessed with my three latest spicy concoctions, though not all of them are traditional “salsas.” In the past week I have made tomatillo salsa, red pepper dip, and pizza sauce. Part of my contentment comes from the deep satisfaction of knowing that I grew many of the ingredients for the salsas in my garden, from the tomatillos and tomatoes to the onions.

The other part is purely physical attraction. The tomatillo salsa is the perfect fusion of tangy, spicy and fire-roasted. The red pepper spread highlights the sweetness of the red and yellow peppers by cutting it with a touch of vinegar. The sunset-orange color of the pizza sauce reflects the garden-fresh tomato flavor.

A chilly October night is perfect for salsa—regardless of which kind you prefer.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

This recipe is from Rick Bayless (online, not in person). The only thing I adjusted were the peppers and the cooking method. I used a mix of Serrano, aji and jalapeno peppers which were available at the farmer’s market. Rick’s recipe calls for broiling the tomatillos and peppers, but I roasted everything on the grill as I invariably burn anything I broil. A crowd favorite!

(Makes 4 cups)
14 medium tomatillos
5-10 hot peppers depending on your taste
1 large onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves
1 cup water
2/3 cup cilantro
2-3 tsp salt
1-2 tsp sugar

lemon juice (for canning)

1. Heat the grill. Lay the whole tomatillos and peppers grill. Let roast until the tomatillos are softened and splotchy black in places (the skins will split), about 5 minutes; your goal is to cook the tomatillos through while they roast, which means they'll transition from light bright green to olive color on the top side. The skin of the chile peppers should blacken and bubble. With a pair of tongs, flip over the tomatillos and chiles and roast the other side for another 4 or 5 minutes or so. Set tomatillos in a bowl, and put peppers in a plastic bag, sealed, to “sweat.”

2. Lay onion rings and unpeeled garlic cloves directly on grill, over cooler part of grill. Turn once when slightly brown.

3. Seed and peel the peppers. Peel the garlic cloves. In a food processor, pulse the peppers with the roasted onions and garlic until moderately finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed to keep it all moving. Scoop into a big bowl, then, without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatillos and their juice. Stir them into the bowl. Stir in some water to give the salsa a spoonable consistency. Stir in the cilantro.

4. Taste and season highly with salt. Taste again and add just enough sugar to take the edge off the tomatillos' bright tanginess. If you're planning to use your salsa right away, simply pour it into a bowl and it's ready, or refrigerate it and use within 5 days. If canning, add about ½ cup lemon juice and can according to directions for water bath.

Red Pepper Spread

This spread, based on a Turkish recipe, is so easy and very delicious! It really lets the flavor of the peppers shine.

3 bell peppers, a mix of red and yellow
1 handful of walnuts
2 tsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
6 tbsp bread crumbs (or more to thicken)

1. Roast bell peppers on grill, turning to blacken skin evenly. When skin has blistered, place peppers in a plastic bag and seal for about 20 minutes.

2. In a food processor pulse seeded, peeled peppers. Add walnuts and mix thoroughly. Drizzle in oil and vinegar and mix. Add in vinegar and bread crumbs. Add salt to taste.

3. Use within 3 to 5 days, or freeze.

Sunset Pizza Sauce

6 quarts of tomatoes--mixture of yellow and red tomatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp fresh chopped basil
3 tsp fresh chopped oregano
dash hot sauce (optional)

1. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until skins split. Set aside to cool in a stock pot.

2. Peel skins off of tomatoes and discard skins. Simmer tomatoes, including seeds and juices, in stock pot over medium heat.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet. Chop onion and garlic. Gently sauté onion in olive oil until softened. Add in garlic and stir, being careful not to let it brown. Quickly transfer onion and garlic to tomato mixture and continue simmering.

4. Add in herbs, some salt and sugar (I started with about 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar, and then adjusted to my taste.) As the sauce cooks down, the natural sugars will concentrates, so do not add additional sugar until end.

5. Add a drizzle more olive oil and simmer on low heat until sauce has thickened.

6. Add a dash of hot sauce if you like.

7. Use or freeze within 5 days.

1 comment:

thriftydabbler said...

OH, MAN ! Your salsa recipes make be drool just reading the recipes !
I am making my first salsa with red and green (before the bugs get anymore) tomatoes tomorrow.
Wondered if I could make the salsa and then can it in 2 days when it is to be cooler? You answered my question in your blog.
Your photos are so appealing and make the food so tempting to make. I love your writing. You are a 'natural' in so many ways ! Gotta love it.....