Green olives play a foundational role in my diet. Their briny bite adds a little something extra whenever I deploy them, and without much work on my end. In salads of both the green and grain varieties, as part of a relish or tapenade, on the side of a cheese board, inside a cocktail, or snacked on straight from the jar, they're a beloved all-the-time staple. And who doesn't love coming across an olive when forking through a plate of pasta or peeking under a roast chicken? A jar of green olives-I like Castelvetranos, but I'm not picky-is like an insurance policy for a flavorful dinner.
Roasted red peppers know some of those same tricks, but their versatility may be a little less obvious. I'm a fan of the jarred ones, kept whole with their skins charred to black before being packed, all slippery and smooth, in salted water. I like that I can see the outline of the fresh vegetable they used to be when I pull them from the jar, but it's rare that I keep my peppers in big pieces. Instead, I chop them into teeny tiny bits, before sweating them into soffrittos or adding them to pasta sauces and stews. I like letting roasted red peppers effectively disappear into whatever I'm cooking, making them a secret ingredient of sorts. Friends take bites of these dishes expecting the acid of tomato, only to find vegetal sweetness instead. The peppers provide bulk and something for punchier flavors to play off of, balancing out other additions of brightness, heat, or savoriness. I include them in my recipes so often that close observers have certainly noticed. The girl loves peppers! So it only felt right that, when tasked with making a sauce that could be twisted in a few different directions, I pulled out my go-to jar once again-along with a jar of green olives, for that something extra.
This sauce (I'm calling it Red Pepper and Olive Sauce, creatively) comes together quickly in a Dutch oven or large pot. Because it's intended to be a jumping off point, it's all concentrated flavor: onion, garlic, and roasted red pepper cooked down into a jammy base, caramelized with tomato paste, the olives, and hot pepper flakes, with canned crushed tomatoes turning it into a true sauce.
From there, the way you get to Dinner Town is up to you. I like to fold it into a baked pasta, studded with torn mozzarella that goes soft and cheese-pully in the oven but gets crisp on top. This, I am not embarrassed to say, is a combination that came to be when I really wanted pizza, because-surprise!-peppers and olives are my two favorite toppings. Adding cheese, butter, and a bit of dried oregano helps keep everything on track; under the broiler, spots get blistered and charred like the roasted red peppers themselves, long ago. With Parmesan and fresh basil on top, it's quick and satisfying, with no crusts left behind by picky eaters.
If baked pasta isn't your jam, you could also turn your sauce into a flavorful, homey, one-pot shrimp and rice. (Not to pick favorites, but it's winter and a stewy moment is all I want in the world, so I think this wins.) Here you'll add turmeric and cumin for earthiness, along with rice and a few glugs of whatever broth you have on hand. (Though water works well, too.) Under the lid, the rice plumps, soaking up the flavors of the red pepper base and mingling with the olives; later, you'll stir in seasoned shrimp, which will poach right in the sauce.
I ladled heap after heap of this mixture into my bowl the first time I made it, delighted as much by the meal as by the limited clean-up afterward. Even if roasted red peppers and green olives aren't already pantry staples for you, I think this dish-and its sister, born from the same saucy base-might convince you to add a few jars of them to your shelves.