The key to this recipe is not to be shy about blackening the skins of the peppers. Underneath the blackened skins, the peppers become tender and silky — that’s the secret to ajvar’s distinctive texture.
Serves 3 to 4 as a starter
- 5 to 6 red bell peppers
- 1/2 large eggplant
- 2 to 4 cloves of garlic, depending on taste
- 1/8 cup olive oil, divided; additional oil to finish dish
- A few splashes of white vinegar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Dried red chili flakes and basil leaves, optional
- Preheat oven to broil.
- Halve each pepper, discarding stems and seeds. Place peppers, cut side down, on an old baking sheet or one lined with foil.
- Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and score with a knife, drizzle it with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a little salt and place it on a second baking sheet. Place one of the oven racks roughly 3 to 4 inches below the heat; place peppers on this rack. The eggplant should sit on a lower rack.
- Broil the peppers and eggplant, turning the peppers occasionally until they are well roasted on all sides, roughly 15 to 20 minutes. The eggplant may be done first; if so, remove it and set it aside to cool. (You can also use an outdoor grill to cook the peppers and eggplant.)
- When you remove the peppers from the oven, place them in a bowl, sprinkle them with a little water, and cover with a clean dishcloth. This step steams and lifts the skins, making it easy to peel the peppers once they’ve cooled. (Another method to loosen skins is to place the peppers in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap until the peppers have cooled.) Use an ice-cream scoop to remove the pulp of the eggplant, leaving the skin behind. Discard the thickest seeds, but don’t get nit-picky.
- Put eggplant in a food processor with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and 3 or 4 smashed garlic cloves. Pulse the eggplant a few times so that it’s chopped with the other ingredients but not totally pureed. Remove the eggplant to a serving bowl. Once peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them with your fingers or a knife. Add peppers to the food processor and pulse 5 to 8 times to chop coarsely. Mix the peppers with the eggplant puree, season to taste with salt, pepper, a splash of vinegar and a shake of dried chili flakes, if you like. Smooth the surface of the ajvar with a spatula.
If you wish, garnish it with more finely diced garlic and a few scattered basil leaves. Serve ajvar with toasted bread slices drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.