Baking is the best way I know to get into the Christmas mood. As soon as November rolls into December, I love putting on my favorite holiday tunes, getting the wood stove crackling hot, and getting to work on old standby recipes and adventurous new ones. Like my grandmother used to do, I love having a stash of seasonal treats in a big round lidded tin in the cupboard to use as needed.
As a French Canadian, I grew up on crepes. In fact, crepes were our go-to fast food when my mom didn’t know what else to make. “I don’t know what to cook tonight” she would say to which I would inevitably respond “let’s have crepes!” If they were dinner crepes, she would make them with whole wheat flour and stuff them with something savory like mushrooms and cheese. Morning crepes were generally lighter, made with unbleached white flour and only a little bit of whole grain flour. These usually involved an unrestrained amount of butter and maple syrup. Dark buckwheat crepes were also a frequent choice and those would either be served with a savory filling or with butter and molasses. To this day, a butter and molasses buckwheat crepe is my ultimate snack when I don’t feel like making anything complicated. I’ve learned to whip up a crepe batter in 5 minutes flat. After all, crepes are essentially just flour, eggs, and milk beaten together.
Put a crème caramel in front of me and I absolutely melt. As a kid, I thought crème caramel was a fancy pants dessert that people only ate in restaurants. Given even the most tantalizing of dessert menus, if I saw crème caramel on it, my decision was already made. But sometime during my teenage years, I learned how easy it is to make at home, and between homework and band practices, I began regularly churning out little ramekins of crème caramel and other flan variations (coffee flan was a big hit for a while). This was all much to my mom’s delight since she shared my custard obsession. There’s nothing quite as simple as whisking together eggs, milk, and sugar, tucking it into the oven, and waiting for it to magically settle into a dainty wobble and become the ultimate comfort food: sweet silky goodness. Though it’s a dessert best eaten cold, I’ve always associated it with fall since that’s when I always used to make it.
Something very lovely happens to red peppers when you roast them. They become infused with an irresistible aroma and filled with a sweet syrup. This recipe uses roasted red peppers to make a rich pesto that is delicious on pasta, bruschetta, polenta, etc. The options are endless.
One of my very first blog posts was about my friend Tonya’s amazing red peppers which she grows on the rooftop of her garage in downtown Toronto. I was blown away that she could grow such bounty on her city rooftop, and I made this video with her, showing her pepper harvest and the creation of her wonderful roasted red pepper ketchup.
The gorgeous peppers I used in my pesto are a variety called Carmen. They were grown organically by our friends at Banner Farm, and their flavor is outstanding! However, you can use regular red bell peppers instead. Any sweet red pepper will do. Do try to find farm-fresh Carmen peppers if you can though, in my opinion they do have more flavor.
Though it may look alarming at first glance, roasted peppers should have fully charred skins in order to get that deep roasted flavor. Don’t be afraid to singe them well, the burnt skin slips off very easily and you’ll be left with nothing but the tender red smoky-tasting flesh inside. However, do take your time, the charring shouldn’t happen too fast because the pepper needs time to cook and soften all the way through.
I roasted my peppers on a wood fire but you can do it over any flame (a propane gas burner is fine), or as a last resort, roast them in the oven. Once they are soft and well blackened, remove them and place them in a lidded pot or in a paper bag. Avoid using a plastic bag because it could melt.
There are many variations of this recipe. You could use almonds instead of the walnuts, or basil instead of the parsley. Feel free to play around with it to suit your personal tastes. Bon appétit!
About 5 large sweet red peppers (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
2 Tbsp sunflower seeds, toasted
1/2 cup freshly-grated parmesan
1/2 small bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 1/2 cup chopped)
1 tsp paprika
1/4 cayenne pepper or pepper flakes (optional)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt (more if you wish)
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil (exact amount is a matter of personal preference)
Roast the peppers over any kind of flame (wood fire is best but a gas burner will do). Your flame shouldn’t be too harsh so that the pepper has time to cook and soften inside while its skin chars. Place the pepper directly on the flame and turn it often, using tongs. Once it’s all blackened, immediately place it a tightly lidded pot or in a paper bag. Let it cool for about 15 to 30 minutes. As it “sweats”, the skin will separate from the flesh and become very easy to peel off. Peel the skins, scrape off the seeds, and your peppers are ready. (If the skins were hard to remove and it gets very messy, you can rinse off the peppers flesh, but it’s better if you can avoid this because the juices have a lot of flavor.
An alternate way to roast the pepper is in the oven, on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes under the broiler (keeping an eye on them and turning over as needed) or for about 50 to 60 minutes at 450F.
Once your roasted peppers are skinned, and seeds removed, you can roughly chop them into pieces. Roughly chop the garlic and parsley as well. Now simply place all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until you are satisfied with the texture. I like a coarse pesto but some people prefer a smooth and silky pesto, it’s up to you how much to blend it.
This pesto makes the perfect amount for 1 pound of pasta. Add it to the pasta once cooked and serve it with parsley and capers. You can also serve this pesto on bruschetta, on polenta, or even with an omelette. The possibilities are endless!
Yield: 4 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.
As a kid, my mom would often make baked apples. They’re quick to prepare and they make a relatively healthy treat: just apples, maple syrup, spices, walnuts, and a bit of butter. If you’re a fan of apple pie but you can’t stand making pie crust, then this is the recipe for you. This dessert hits the apple pie spot, without the fuss of a crust and peeling and chopping of apples. Kids love making and eating this simple dessert.
I’ve been a fan of rye for a long time, but this summer has really sealed the deal for my love affair with the handsome grain. Rye is a wholesome and incredibly nutritious grain and for the past few years, I’ve had the joy of watching it grow.