Make a statement with this bright red and green Christmas Day starter of Red Pepper Rolls With Goat’s Cheese that looks like Christmas on a plate! Tasty and nutrient dense, I think the red pepper rolls are a luxed-up vegetarian version of smoked salmon! Though brought together with a goat’s cheese filling, a fresh tomato vinaigrette, basil pesto and watercress, I suspect this fresh-tasting, light introduction to the main event will do you more good!
Packed with the great flavours of Provence, these delicious red pepper rolls seem to hark back to warmer days. But for now, open a bottle of chilled Champagne or a crisp, grassy, Marlborough Sauvignon to cut through the flavour of the goat’s cheese, and you have a fantastic festive beginning to your foodie celebrations.
As with the rest of Primal Plate’s vegetarian Christmas day menu, most of the preparation for this dish can be done in advance of the big day. Then just before you sit down to eat, simply bring the different components together on pure white porcelain plates. Absolutely stunning to look at, this light and flavourful starter will still leave plenty of room for what is to follow.
Red Pepper Rolls With Goat’s Cheese (serves 4)
Ingredients - for the pepper rolls
4 red Romano peppers (the long, pointy ones!)
140g full-fat, soft, vegetarian goat’s cheese, without rind (I used Rosary Goat’s Milk Cheese)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
20g pine nuts, toasted
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp Nonpareille capers, well rinsed - to garnish
Watercress sprigs, washed - to garnish
Whole fresh chives - to garnish
Ingredients - for the tomato vinaigrette
120g ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp low sugar tomato ketchup
1 tsp tomato paste
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1-2 drops liquid stevia (alternatively, ½ - 1 tsp maple syrup), to taste - optional
Ingredients - for the basil pesto
50g fresh basil leaves
25g pine nuts, very lightly toasted (in a dry frying pan over a low heat)
4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (just enough to bind everything together into a thick, slushy sauce)
1 small squeeze of fresh lemon juice - optional (but it helps the basil to keep its green colour)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Instructions - for the red peppers and cheese filling
Pre-heat a grill to High. Line a large flat baking sheet or the grill pan with a non-stick baking mat or non-stick aluminium foil.
Cut the peppers in half lengthways, then remove the stalk end, seeds and any white stringy bits.
Place the pepper halves cut side down - skin side up - on the baking tray and grill fairly close to the heat source for about 6 minutes, or until their skins blister and start to blacken.
Remove from the grill. Lay a sheet of cling-film over the top of the peppers and allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, in a bowl mix the goat's cheese and olive oil together with a fork until softened. Add the chopped chives, pine kernels and season with pepper. Set aside.
Carefully peel the cold peppers and place skinned side down onto a large clean plate.
If you're working in advance, the peppers and cheese can now be covered and refrigerated until needed.
Instructions - to make the basil pesto
The easiest way to make pesto is to process the basil, cheese, toasted pine nuts and 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor or blender - or use a hand-held stick blender - until it comes together into a thick, smooth, fragrant, bright-green sauce (scraping down the sides of the bowl as required).
Tip the mixture into a bowl, stir in an extra tablespoon or two of olive oil if you think more is needed to make an oozy consistency, then season the pesto to taste with salt and pepper, adding a small squeeze of lemon juice, if liked.
Alternatively, you can pound the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar, gradually adding the olive oil until it is the right consistency.
Cover and refrigerate until needed.
Instructions - to make the tomato vinaigrette
Blend all the ingredients in a small food processor or blender, or with a hand-held stick blender, for 30 seconds until fully amalgamated.
Strain through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste, then cover and refrigerate until needed.
Instructions - to assemble the dish
When you’re ready to serve the pepper rolls, lay the peppers out onto a cutting board - trim off any straggly edges, if necessary.
Fill with the goat’s cheese mixture - about 1 generous tablespoon per pepper half. Spread the mixture evenly along the length of the peppers, leaving about 5mm clearance around the edges. Roll each half up into a neat roll.
Arrange the pepper rolls on individual plates. Garnish with sprigs of fresh watercress and whole chives (see picture). Drizzle the tomato vinaigrette around the edges of the plates and add 3 to 4 small dollops of the basil pesto. Finally, randomly scatter a few of the capers over and around.
Serve with aplomb! Wowzers! You’ve surpassed yourself!
The pesto will keep 3-5 days in a sealed jar in a fridge - it’s best to cover its surface with a little more olive oil if storing for more than a couple of days.
The tomato vinaigrette will keep for 2-4 days, in a sealed jar in a fridge.