What’s cooking today: Linguine with Salsa Rossa

What’s cooking today: Linguine with Salsa Rossa
Tony Jackman’s linguine with salsa rossa sauce, made with peppers and tomatoes roasted in an air fryer. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

No, you don’t cook the pasta in the air fryer; let’s get that out of the way first. It’s the red peppers, tomatoes and garlic that you roast in it, until they’re blistery and smelling like heaven itself.

It seems like only last year that, when we wanted to blacken a red bell pepper, we’d turn on a gas flame and blacken them on each side, or hold them over the flames at the braai, using tongs. But now there’s a new and better way: in your air fryer. In just 15 to 20 minutes you’ll have hot, soft and richly flavourful capsicum flesh ready to turn into a fine pasta sauce.

I did the same with whole ripe tomatoes and garlic, and everything turned out beautifully.

Roasting vegetables before making a sauce or a soup is a most desirable thing. It enriches the flavour massively, enabling you to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. The vegetable’s intrinsic oils and essences are released in a scientific process called the Maillard Reaction, “a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars to create melanoidins, the compounds which give browned food its distinctive flavour” (Wikipedia).

This week my 5.7-litre Instant Vortex Plus air fryer got all scientific with four plump red peppers, and then with six large, ripe tomatoes and a whole bulb of garlic. The results were all destined for a pasta sauce known in Italy as salsa rossa (red sauce); not to be confused with salsa roja, the piquant tomato and chilli sauce of Mexican cuisine.

There are other things you can add to a salsa rossa. Some recipes include vinegar (which I didn’t want in a pasta sauce), others carrot. Some have chilli or smoked paprika, others capers or anchovies. Because this was to be served with pasta, I left all of those out, though capers or anchovies, even both, would have made for an interesting pasta sauce too. (I didn’t add smoked paprika, mainly because I forgot. 🙈)

(Makes enough to to serve 4)


Red peppers in the air fryer. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

4 large red peppers, pricked

6 large ripe tomatoes, pricked

1 head of garlic, whole

Olive oil spray

Olive oil, as needed (be generous, it’s a pasta sauce)

1 red onion, chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika (if you remember)

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Linguine (250 g or 500 g, depending on if you’re serving 2 or 4)

1 ladle of pasta water

Grated Parmesan (optional)

Oregano for garnish


Red peppers, tomatoes and garlic after having been roasted in an air fryer. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Spray the bottom and sides of the air fryer basket.

Preheat the air fryer to 200℃ or 205℃ (which is a preset of the Instant Vortex Plus).

Prick the red peppers here and there with a toothpick.

Roast for 5 minutes, turn, then another five minutes, turn, and then another five. I turned them a fourth time for a final five-minute roast.

Use tongs or a fork to remove them to a side dish to cool.

Prick the tomatoes here and there and put them in the air fryer basket. Add a whole bulb of garlic.

Roast in the same way as the peppers. Leave to cool to room temperature before handling them.

To make a pasta sauce, simmer the chopped red onion in plenty of olive oil (to enrich the sauce) until softened.

Remove the chokes from the peppers and the seeds. Chop the capsicum flesh roughly and add to the pot.

Peel the tomatoes and remove the seeds using a teaspoon. Chop them roughly and add to the pot.

Squeeze the garlic pulp out of their husks and add to the pot. Add smoked paprika if using. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Cook gently for five minutes. 

Blend using a handheld stick or in a food processor. 

Cook the linguine until al dente in rapidly boiling water. Add a ladle of the pasta water to the pasta sauce and simmer for a few more minutes, stirring.

Toss the sauce through the drained linguine and serve with grated Parmesan and a garnish of oregano or basil. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed in a bowl by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


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