Why a Jar of Roasted Red Peppers Should Be in Everyone’s Pantry

published May 13, 2020
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Closeup of roasted red peppers in olive oil
Credit: Joe Lingeman

There are many pantry staples I reach for so frequently that I never seem to have enough of them (Dijon mustard! Sherry vinegar!) — but jarred roasted red peppers have never been one of them. Oddly enough, I do buy them regularly because I think I am going to use them. With time, the jars pile up in the back of my cupboard, lurking until I discover them behind the canned beans and dried pasta when I go to assemble a pantry dinner.

These days — during these long quarantined weeks — pulling a meal from the pantry has become the norm, which means after so many previous moments of not giving them a second glance, I’m finally become reacquainted with those forgotten jars. What I’ve found is that I’ve really been neglecting them for far too long. Roasted red peppers hold an incredible amount of potential and I am only just now discovering it. If you’ve got a few dusty jars in your pantry, too, let me show you how marvelous they truly are.

Jarred Peppers Are Sweet and Sunny: That’s Exactly What We Need Right Now

In the summer I often toss bell peppers on the grill to char and become as slinky and juicy as can be. While these warm days are ahead, I already know they are going to look different this year. That’s why I am finding the jarred stuff to be such sweet relief right now. It’s easy enough pop a jar open from the pantry, and in doing so I am rewarded with the peppers’ naturally bright color that instantly reminds me of sunnier days. Their flavor, too, immediately draws me in with extra sweet bite that’s practically cheerful, with smoky undertones that make me alert and engaged in a time when it’s generally hard to be. No offense to canned beans right now, but they can’t do that.

Not all jarred roasted red peppers are equal, though. I’ve found the very best flavor and texture comes from those packed in olive oil, which often also contains a couple of whole peeled garlic cloves. These days, though, I am not picky. Water-packed jars have just as much utility in the kitchen. Just reach for what you have — there’s great potential in both kinds.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

My Favorite Ways to Use Roasted Red Peppers

  • Blend them into a sauce. If your roasted red peppers are in olive oil, dump the whole thing in a food processor or blender. Otherwise, drain them from their water and add them to the food processor or blender with several general glugs of olive oil. Toss in a garlic clove or two, if you like, season with salt and pepper, and maybe add a few pinches of a spice like smoked paprika, za’atar, chili powder, or cayenne. Blend until smooth and then toss the sauce with pasta, dollop it on meat and fish, or dunk bread into it.
  • Or turn it into a quick romesco. True romesco requires you to char your own peppers, but the smoky Spanish condiment can and should be made the shortcut way without regrets. Pulse the peppers in a food processor with olive oil, sherry vinegar, toasted almonds (walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts also work), garlic, salt, and pepper until it’s a chunky, dip-like mixture. Enjoy it with crackers, raw veggies, or even folded into scrambled eggs.
  • Combine them with canned tomatoes for the easiest soup. Sauté a chopped onion in olive oil in a large pot. Empty a large can of whole peeled tomatoes (or crushed or puree or diced) into it and add roasted red peppers. Pour in some chicken or vegetable broth until it’s soupy and bring to a simmer. Let is simmer for 10 minutes then purée it. Season with salt and pepper and add other spices and herbs, too — curry powder or Italian seasoning or chopped thyme are all nice.
  • Use them to add color to just about anything. Whether it’s pasta salad, actual salad, a sandwich, pizza, risotto, or even macaroni and cheese, they’ll all benefit from some juicy, sweet roasted red peppers. Or try them in place of tomatoes in a caprese — it’s the perfect way to enjoy the dish when tomatoes aren’t at their best.

There are countless ingredients clamoring for space in your kitchen. Taste Makers are the ones that actually make a dish amazing. Each month, we’re exploring one ingredient that has earned its place in our small kitchens and will make even simple food taste spectacular.

Your turn: What’s your favorite underrated ingredient in your pantry? What do you reach for when you want to elevate your cooking quickly and easily? Tell us in the comments below! We may give it the star treatment in an upcoming edition of Taste Makers.