My two-year old daughter loves red bell peppers. I mean, just loves them, and, when you’re talking about the sweet love a toddler feels for something, that means that she is liable to get up and scream and whine for them at any moment. I wrote about this in a column for The New York Times Magazine a little while ago, but basically, I had to figure out what to do with the stacks of red peppers we keep on hand for her on the weeks where poof, she just decides she doesn’t care about them anymore.
And I started to think about a great recipe by the chef Justin Smillie, where you basically throw so many peppers and onions in a pot that they release all this juice, and then you brown some chicken legs and just tuck ‘em in there to braise in that pepper broth, without any stock or wine, and it’s just fantastic. So from there I got the idea of, well, if peppers and onions are tasty enough to form the broth for a braise, what would happen if you just cook them all the way down to a glaze?
And the answer is: very good things happen. The onions and peppers caramelize so you have this sweet, complex flavor, and the peppers have pretty much melted into this schmoo. I love to spread on toast and topping with basically whatever to make a little lunch. Some salted ricotta and mint is great. Or tuna or smoked whitefish salad with sriracha is great. Or Italian sausage and parmesan. So many things are great with this melted pepper spread.
So here’s how you make it. You thinly slice two medium onions and get them going in a big pan with a quarter-cup of olive oil over medium heat. Salt it and let it cook uncovered until it’s soft, and stir it every couple minutes so it doesn’t brown too much. Then you thinly slice a pound-and-a-half of red bell peppers and four cloves of garlic. When the onions are really soft, add the peppers and garlic, salt it a bit, and cook that for like 10 minutes, until the juices have pretty much cooked off. Then you start stirring it a little more, once or twice a minute for the next 10 minutes or so until the whole thing is like a jam and you can smell those caramelized flavors. Salt it to taste, add a splash of vinegar and some chopped thyme, cook for one more minute, and you’re done. I’m telling you, it tastes so good, my daughter hasn’t asked for peppers for weeks but I’m still at the store buying peppers for this.
Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table. He is the former Eat columnist for The New York Times Magazine and is Editor-at-Large at Clarkson Potter. He graduated first in his class at the Culinary Institute of America and has written for numerous publications. Lam lives with his family in New York City.