The chili may have come from the New World, but the Italians have embraced it wholeheartedly. It appears in an amazing range of dishes and you can find a good number of these recipes right here on this blog. But pepper cream pasta or pepper cream pasta is not your typical pepperoni dish.
Most of us probably associate peppers with the strong, often smoky flavors you get when you fry, roast, or grill them. But in this recipe, you simmer them with onions to bring out their inherent sweetness, then toss them with cream for even more softness and a velvety texture.
The resulting cream of peppers or mashed peppers can be paired with any shape of pasta you desire. And you can make it ahead and store it in the fridge for up to a week, so it’s perfect for that last-minute dinner party.
- For 4 to 6 people
- 400-500g pasta (see notes)
- 2-3 large red and/or yellow peppers, or 400 g (14 oz) mini peppers, cut into strips
- 1 medium onion, preferably fresh, thinly sliced
- Olive oil
- Heavy cream, to taste, about 250 ml (1/2 cup)
- 50 g freshly grated parmesan or more to taste
- Salt and pepper
- A handful of grape or cherry tomatoes halved
- A few basil leaves
In a large pan, brown the peppers, onions, and possibly tomatoes in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add a little water, lower the heat and partially cover the pan. Cook the vegetables until perfectly tender, adding more water if things start to dry out. Be careful to avoid any browning. Generously season the vegetables with salt and pepper while cooking.
Transfer the vegetables to a blender or food processor, along with a few basil leaves if you have them on hand. Start blending/processing them, adding the cream in a steady stream until you have a smooth, pourable puree, but still quite thick. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Return the puree to the saucepan and cook over very low heat, adding water to the pasta if it becomes too dry.
Cook pasta in salted water until slightly al dente.
Transfer the pasta to the skillet with the mash, along with a ladleful of the pasta water. Toss the pasta with the mash over low heat until the mash has thickened enough to coat the pasta. Add the grated cheese and stir once more to melt the cheese into the sauce.
Serve immediately, with more grated cheese if desired.
Notes on Pepper Cream Pasta
My main tip for making this dish a success: simmer the peppers and onions, avoiding any browning, to fully enhance the sweetness. For the same reason, you want to make sure they cook until completely tender, with no trace of crunch. This will also ensure that the peppers turn into a perfectly smooth “cream”.
By the way, I want to point out that the Italian word crema is a false friend. This is not a reference to the dairy product (which in Italian is called cream) but to the creamy consistency. In other words, essentially synonymous with “mash”; it can also refer to a class of pureed soups.
You can use red, yellow, or orange peppers to make your cream of peppers or a combination of these. And if you have mini peppers like the photo in this post, great. They have a delicate sweetness, ideal for this dish. Whichever type you use, make sure your peppers are fully ripe. Avoid unripe green peppers, not a separate genus. Their slightly astringent flavor works well where you need a strong flavor – I love them with grilled sausages, for example – but that’s not what you want here.
Pepper cream goes well with all shapes of pasta, but in my opinion, it works best with short plates of pasta like the farfalle pictured here. Penne, rigatoni or casarecce are also excellent choices. But you will also see recipes for this sauce on long pasta, such as spaghetti or bucatini. Ultimately it’s a matter of taste.
Variations on this basic theme abound. Some like to use ricotta instead of cream. If you want a lighter dish, you can replace the cream with a little water or pasta broth. You could additionally upload extra tomatoes, which need to provide sufficient juice for a puree. For a firmer, less sweet bite, you can use roasted peppers or garlic for the onions.