August and September are my favorite food months. My vegetable gardens are usually full and lush, with all of my favorite summer vegetables and pantry staples (like onions, garlic, and herbs) ripening daily. It gives me a lot of private joy (well, not so private now, lol) to be able to entirely skirt the produce department at the big box grocery for a few months. In fact, I needed to purchase only the dairy products in this creamy roasted tomato and red pepper dip, as I had all the vegetables right in my own backyard.
This year, peppers are doing outstandingly well — I’ve never had such a voluminous crop so early in the season. I added Jimmy Nardello’s sweet peppers to the roster, and — the first to ripen (in July!) — I’ve been enjoying them sliced into salads or sautéed with other vegetables. Here, they add a succulence that only roasted peppers can give — deep and savory.
One of the marvelous qualities of cherry tomatoes is their sheer quantity: once the first truss begins to ripen, you’ll be endowed with a non-stop supply well into early fall. (I always advise newbie tomato growers to include at least one cherry tomato plant in their garden. The plants are large and gangly, but the reward of ripe tomatoes, given a healthy plant, is almost guaranteed. Growing tomatoes, especially heirlooms, is not the easiest thing you’ll ever do in the garden, but cherry tomatoes almost always come through with flying colors.)
Oh! And speaking of easy garden starter vegetables, I would just like to sneak in a reminder to folks north of the Mason-Dixon line that the time to plant garlic is approaching (October). Garlic is so easy to grow (here’s a tutorial), and the sheer variety available to northern home gardeners is quite impressive (far beyond the meek, grown-for-transport variety sold at the grocery). Every gardener who likes to cook with garlic should be growing it. Buy now for the best selection.
And now back to our regular recipe programming … this roasted tomato and red pepper dip needs two turns in the oven, but because preparation is quick, total time is mostly hands-off. You can make this a little ahead of your party and keep it in a warm oven until ready to serve. I serve with little toasted bread slices rubbed with garlic, but in the privacy of my very closest peeps, we also enjoy it with Fritos — you know, the big bowl-shaped ones for maximum dippage.
- About 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (quarter the larger ones) (measure before slicing – it’s a scant pint, if you’re purchasing them from the market)
- 1 small sweet red pepper, roughly chopped or sliced small
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed with salt
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves only, torn
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
- olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups labneh* or whipped cream cheese
- 1/2 cup melting cheese, grated (I used Monterey Jack)
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon crumbled bacon, pork or veggie
- Preheat oven to 450ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
- In a large bowl, gently toss together the tomatoes, red peppers, garlic, oregano, thyme, about 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out evenly on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until tomatoes are slightly charred. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, whisk the labneh or cream cheese in a medium mixing bown until smooth, and fold in the cheeses. Add the tomato and stir to combine.
- Spoon into a 6″ oven-safe skillet or baking dish and sprinkle the bacon over the top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and lightly golden. Serve with a sliced baguette (1″ thick sliced), toasted.
- *Labneh is yogurt cheese, which I generally prefer over cream cheese. Calories are about the same, but I like the yogurt tang (and general yogurt goodness … live cultures, etc.) that labneh brings to the party. If you can’t find labneh at your grocery, don’t worry, it’s super simple to make: buy a container of plain Greek yogurt. Line a large strainer with cheesecloth or a coffee filter and spoon in 1 1/2 cups of yogurt. Set the strainer over a bowl, and place in the fridge for 24 hours. Discard the liquid collected in the bowl – the yogurt in the strainer is now thick and luscious labneh.