Maybe that's not 100% accurate, but these smoked veggies gave the pasta sauce a definite smokey, almost meaty flavor and a silky texture.
I wanted the herbs to "pop" against the strong smoke flavor, so I used fennel and tarragon. And the ricotta salata cheese has a mild, salty flavor and beautiful white color that's perfect for this flavorful, zesty tomato sauce.
To smoke veggies [for tips on smoking, check out this post]
5 large Tomatoes
1 large can Artichoke Hearts
3 Portabella Mushroom caps, gills removed
1 bulb of Fennel
1 Anaheim Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Hickory Chips for smoking
Salt and Pepper
4 slices Bacon
4 Garlic Cloves, diced
1 cup chopped Onion
¾ cup White Wine
1 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
1 ½ cup Water
12 oz. can Tomato Paste
2 tsp. chopped fresh Tarragon
5 oz. Ricotta Salata Cheese
1 Tbs. Sugar
Prepared Pasta (I used Buitoni Braised Beef and Sausage Ravioli)
Smoke the Vegetables
Cut the bulb of the fennel and the Anaheim Pepper into two large halves, and place in a bowl of water + 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the artichoke hearts and portabella mushrooms to the water/oil mixture, and soak everything for 1 hour. Score the skins of the tomatoes with a large X, and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Soak two handfuls of the hickory chips in water for at least 30 minutes. Prepare a charcoal grill so that the hot coals are spread on 2 sides of the grill, with an aluminum pan filled with water in the middle and separating the coals. Place the soaked hickory chips over the hot coals, and replace the grilling surface.
Place the veggies in the center of the grill, and try to avoid putting them over direct heat. (You may have to make smoke the vegetables in batches). Use a metal tray to keep the artichoke hearts from falling through the grate.
Make the Sauce
Once the veggies have cooled, chop the pepper and fennel. Cut the portabellas and artichokes into bite-sized pieces.
Chop the bacon, and saute it in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Once the bacon begins to brown, add the onion and garlic and saute for 5 minutes. Add the fennel, pepper, portabellas, and artichokes and saute until all of the vegetables are soft and the fennel is sweet.
Peel the skin off of the smoked tomatoes, and core and seed them. (I do this by holding the whole tomato over the pot and using my fingers to slide the soft, smoked tomato off of its core. Ewwww.) Add the tomatoes to the pot, and stir until all of the browned bits come off the bottom of the pan.
Stir in the white wine, balsamic, tomato paste, and water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a vigorous simmer, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add the tarragon, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Taste the sauce--if it is too smoky for you, add the sugar and simmer for 10 more minutes. Right before serving, crumble or shave pieces of the ricotta salata cheese into the sauce, and enjoy!