What's in Season: Peppers
A Fall Reward of Color and Flavor
Bell peppers are available year-round, but it's in the fall when they're at their colorful best.
While peppers range from scorching to mild, the ones I like best are bell peppers which do more than add heat to other foods. With the beautiful, musical name capsicum annuum, bell peppers come from the same family as chile peppers but have less fire, thick fleshy walls, and a sweet flavor that is made more intense with cooking.
Eaten raw, bell peppers are crisp and bright, with a snap to their firm and juicy flesh. But when cooked, they soften to a silky, rich combination of sweet and bitter that lets them either stand alone or be a compliment to other flavors.
How to Buy Bell Peppers
The most common bell pepper is green, but in the fall we get to see the full riot of their colors -- red, yellow, orange, purple, white and brown. The colors give us more than visual variety; they also give us extra flavor. Most bell peppers start out green, which means they're fully developed but not quite yet ripe. As they ripen, they change color (the color will vary with the variety) and as they do, their flavors get deeper and sweeter. Non-green bell peppers also cost more, which makes sense since that a farmer has to let a pepper grow longer to ripen and develop its color.
When buying bell peppers, look for ones that are firm and unblemished, with a shiny surface and the stem securely in place. They should feel heavy for their size and be unwrinkled.
Storing Bell Peppers
Keep your peppers refrigerated where they'll stay for 3 to 4 days. Because bright colored (i.e., non-green) peppers are riper, they will spoil more easily so keep that in mind when planning your meals.
How to Cook with Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are generally eaten one of three ways: First, raw in salads or as part of a crudité platter. Next, they are roasted so as to remove the skins and eaten as the centerpiece of a salad, a side vegetable or as a flavorful and colorful addition to an antipasto platter. Third, they are used as the primary ingredient in sauces, dips, and added to dishes like risottos or stews.
Peppers' skins can be removed either with a sharp vegetable peeler, or more often, they are removed after a pepper is roasted. The roasting adds flavor and also softens the pepper. By first blistering a pepper's surface, and then briefly steaming the pepper, the skin easily lifts off. Here's how:
- Rinse the peppers to remove any surface dirt. Dry completely with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
- Place the peppers on a sheet pan that is either completely clean or else lined with a piece of parchment paper. Use no oil and no salt.
- Place the peppers on the pan under your broiler, about 3 to 4 inches below the flame. Monitor the peppers and watch for their surface to begin to bubble, then blister, then blacken. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes to begin, although once the surface starts to blister it can take less time to go from blistering to charred so keep watching.
- Once the peppers' surface is charred, use a pair of kitchen tongs to rotate the peppers. Your goal is to get all the surfaces of the peppers blistered and blackened, so every 5 or so minutes you will need to go back to your broiler and turn the peppers.
- When all of the peppers are entirely blackened, remove the sheet pan from the oven. Transfer the blackened peppers to a large bowl and cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap to contain the heat and steam coming from the blackened peppers.
- Let the peppers steam and gradually cool in the covered bowl for about 30 minutes. The steaming will help loosen the skin (see the next step).
- Take the peppers one at a time, and with your fingers, peel off the skin, both the blackened surface and all the other skin. At the same time, remove the stem and all the interior, including the seeds and any fibers.
- The cooked -- and now cooling -- peppers will probably have produced liquid which is moisture that has seeped out of the cooked flesh. If you are preparing the peppers to make a sauce or soup, you may want to capture this pepper-flavored liquid. If not, just discard it along with the skins.
- Cut the peppers as you need for your final recipe.
Tip: Do not try to take the skins off by rinsing the peppers under water! This will wash away the great flavor that will have been produced by the blackening under the broiler flame. Instead be patient and do your best to remove the skins by hand.
Tip: Peppers can also be charred on a grill or by holding over the flame of a stove's gas burner using a long handled fork or skewer.
Recipes and Dishes Featuring Bell Peppers
My favorite way to eat bell peppers is right after they've been charred and the skin removed, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a crack of black pepper and pinch of sea salt. Some other ways to cook with roasted and raw bell peppers are:
- Roasted, peeled and puréed into a sauce (with fresh thyme, sautéed garlic and olive oil) to serve with poached fish, over other, mild flavored vegetables like steamed cauliflower, or with a mild flavored meat like turkey burgers.
- Roasted, peeled and cut into bite-sized squares and added to a bulgar or couscous salad or left in large pieces and stacked on an antipasto platter along with artichoke hearts, little balls of mozzarella, slices of salami, cherry tomatoes and pieces of prosciutto. Serve at room temperature with a drizzle of your best olive oil.
- Roasted, peeled and added as a slice to a turkey or roast beef sandwich.
- Raw red peppers cut into strips and added to a simple romaine lettuce and red onion salad.
- Red, green and yellow peppers quartered and added to a seafood and sausage paella.
- Cooked peppers can form the basis of a flavorful pepper relish.
- Add raw bell peppers to an end-of-summer gazpacho.
- Served alongside a serving of fresh arugula dressed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil, a fat slice of a great tomato, and a small wedge of goat cheese.
A favorite way to cook bell peppers is to stuff them with a meat or vegetarian mixture and then bake them until the flavors all meld. We've included a link to a recipe for "Stuffed Peppers" by Food TV's Ellie Krieger whose recipes consistently combine healthy ingredients with great flavor. In her version of this classic dish, she adds extra vegetables and bulghur to ground beef, leaving out the white rice.