Roasted Red Pepper Risotto, or The Importance of Being Creative in the Kitchen

Two plates of steamy risotto, finally ready to be eaten.

Two plates of steamy risotto, finally ready to be eaten.

I know you probably think I’ve posted the same dish twice in a row. And honestly, considering the month I’ve had, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had done that. But no, I’m not that absent-minded (yet). This risotto has an even more winding origin than the last one I posted. If you are actually craving something like Roasted Red Pepper Risotto, I assure you there are far easier ways to come by it. One day I’ll probably try to figure one out. That day was not today.

I bought two gigantic red bell peppers on sale this week and I wanted to try something new with them. I found a tasty sounding recipe for a Roasted Red Pepper Tomato soup on Recipezaar. I’ve had some luck finding inspiration on that site before so I decided to give it a try.

We roasted the peppers in the broiler, turning every thirty seconds or so, until the skins were more or less black and blistery. Then we put the peppers into a paper bag and left them to cool. We peeled the burnt and crackled skin off and de-seeded the slippery roasted peppers. We gathered the rest of the ingredients. We didn’t know what the “chili paste” listed might be in this case, so I fashioned something out of dried chili flakes and hot sauce. We followed all the rest of the steps as written, and then blended it into a nice smooth soup. It was such a gorgeous red, I couldn’t wait to taste it.

The red pepper soup looking vibrant before blending.

What I haven’t mentioned, however, is that I have been fighting off a particularly bad sinus infection these last several weeks, and so my sense of smell, and therefore, taste, has been compromised. I can’t really tell – everything tastes fine to me. My mouth doesn’t seem to know what it is missing. However, when someone else tastes what I’ve prepared, I am reminded how off my senses are right now.

Neither of us is afraid of spiciness, so when Jen tasted the soup and announced that she couldn’t stomach eating more than a spoonful of it, I knew the spiciness must be really bad. I had been so worried about whether or  not the taste of roasted pepper would come through the tomato that I hadn’t even thought about how much spice I had added, or how it would intensify after being pureed.

After working so hard on such a beautiful soup with such prime ingredients, I couldn’t bear to let it go to waste, but it was late, we were both hungry and tired and there was just nothing that could be done to salvage it at that moment. I packed it away for the night, and we munched on the garlic matzoh we had made for dipping instead. I vowed to try again the next day.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup packed and waiting to be eaten

I knew I couldn’t trust my senses alone if I wanted to fix this dish. We brainstormed ways we could cool the soup down to a point where it would be edible. First we thought of adding some dairy, to dilute it and nullify the heat. Unfortunately, the heat was too strong for that plan to be effective. The only other option we could think of was to use the soup as the liquid in a risotto. Since we had so recently made a tomato risotto, I was reasonably sure it would work. I crossed my fingers that it would take the heat down enough notches.

I started the risotto as usual, with about half a cup of finely chopped onion and a bit of olive oil in a pot. Then I added about 3 cups of long grain rice and allowed it to toast lightly and get coated with oil. Then we added a cup of the soup and  cup of water at a time, stirring and adding more even amounts of the liquids until the rice puffed and became creamy.

The risotto waits for the final taste verdict.

Somehow, magically, the risotto came out as the soup should have. Just a hint of spice, a creamy texture with notes of both roasted red pepper and tomato. It was delicious and I will have the leftovers for lunch this week. I didn’t get to have the soup I was planning on (next time I make it I won’t add spice until much later on in the process, and hopefully I’ll have my sense of taste back by then too), and the experience definitely wasn’t one I’ll willingly repeat, but it turned out delicious in the end anyway.

Hopefully you won’t take the above as instructions on how to make what turned out to be a fabulous dish. The real lesson I would want you to take away from this is that cooking is a creative pursuit. There is no one way to do anything. No matter how badly you think you’ve ruined a dish, a little creative thinking can probably remedy it. Just be patient with yourself and your ingredients and try to think outside the box.

I never would have thought about making risotto like this, but this winding road led me to an unlikely but appetizing dish. Now I’ve still got half the soup left – any ideas on what I could use the rest of it for?

One year ago: Tangy Pineapple Shrimp with Okra

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