Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vegan Roasted Vegetable Pesto with Dried Aji Amarillo Peppers

Last month, a representative from Marx foods contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in creating a recipe using one of the dried chiles from their sampler pack.  I expected the sampler to be full of spicy chiles, but a few of them were on the milder side as well.  I researched all of the different varieties and when I read descriptions of the Aji Amarillo pepper I knew exactly what I wanted to try.
The Aji Amarillo is  native to South America and used extensively in Peruvian cuisine.  While the Peruvians typically use it fresh, it's more widely available canned, dried, or in powder form. Its flavor is fruity and bright and it has a medium level of heat.  Some people describe the flavor as being similar to sun-dried tomatoes, which gave me the idea to try using it in a pesto along with some roasted tomatoes from the garden.  
*If you'd like to vote for my recipe in the contest, please head over here, and do check out the other entries*
Here is a thread from Chowhound with ideas for Aji Amarillo paste, a thread from Serious Eats about the chile and ideas for it fresh or ground, and an article from the New York Times labeling these peppers as a new staple and giving a recipe for a sauce from the canned chiles which is typically served over potatoes.
I wanted to emphasize the chiles sweetness, so I decided to roast whatever vegetables I had around and combine them with the chiles, garlic, and tons of fresh basil for an easy sauce that freezes well.
Like all pestos, measurements are approximate and you're welcome to make any additions/substitutions that suit your taste and what you have on hand.   I chose to keep this pesto very simple and didn't use cheese or nuts in an effort to let the flavors of the vegetables shine through.  If you'd like, you can add toasted walnuts or pine nuts and any hard dry cheese to make this more like a traditional pesto.

Vegan Roasted Vegetable Pesto with Dried Aji Amarillo Peppers

3 c. roasted vegetables (instructions below) 
1.5 c. fresh basil leaves
1/4 c. olive oil
2-4 cloves garlic
2 dried Aji Amarillo peppers, reconstituted in hot water and drained.
salt and pepper to taste

roasted vegetables
Choose whatever vegetables are fresh and in season at your local market.  Cut them into evenly sized pieces and roast at 425 for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or however long it takes for them to dehydrate and brown.  They will get a little blackish on bottom, but they shouldn't smell or taste burnt.

Tomatoes are still going strong here, so I started with a pan full of whole small cherry tomatoes.
Cut any larger tomatoes into halves or quarters.  We love tomatillos, so we used four of those.
To add sweetness and depth of flavor, we also included peeled whole shallots and a carrot from the garden.  You can truly use whatever you have around and like. Put all your vegetables on a greased sheet pan and season well with salt and pepper.  Keep the sliced tomatoes skin side down for easier removal.  
Roast until everything has shrunk down and browned well.  

While the vegetables are roasting, reconstitute the dried chiles in hot water just to cover.  
Drain the water and remove the seeds and stems.
In your food processor, blend the garlic cloves to be sure they're totally crushed.  Then add the roasted vegetables and chiles.
Pulse three to five times just to get everything started.  Then, add your fresh basil.  Season generously with salt and pepper and add your oil.
Pulse until the basil is fully chopped and incorporated into the vegetables.  Taste and adjust for seasoning.
You can use this immediately or store in the freezer.  It will freeze beautifully like regular pesto if you put it in an ice cube tray to freeze in small portions.  I used a freezer-safe jar.
This pesto is perfectly balanced with the smoky roasted vegetables, sweet and hot chiles, and herby basil.  It's excellent on pasta or as a bruschetta topping.  
Soon I'll post photos from the Culinary Walk, which we attended last week for the third year in a row.  Until then, I'll be outside enjoying the transitional weather and stuffing myself with tomatoes.  I hope you're able to do the same!
*If you'd like to vote for my recipe in the contest, please head over here, and do check out the other entries* 


Maren @ Maren's Morsels said...

I was too afraid to use the Aji Amarillo chiles in my recipe. And I read about "reviving" the chiles in water after they had been dried but didn't believe it would actually work. So cool and what a great recipe idea.

Noelle said...

Reviving the chilies are fun! It is making sure that one uses gloves. This is a nice recipe!

Alicia said...

Thanks Maren and Noelle! The chiles came back to life and were a standout in the pesto. Very sweet and a nice level of heat.

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