THE DAY IT dawned on me that the tasteless pimentos in jars started life as glorious, fresh, sweet, red bell peppers, I determined never to buy those gummy things that add color to a dish but little else. So now, even though sweet red peppers are available throughout the year (but at a price), I cart home bags of these fat, fleshy things from the end of August through September. This is their "season" because they are green bell peppers that finally have ripened. My husband has come to recognize the necessity of enduring another of my madnesses.
But there is method. Most of my red peppers get frozen. Some cookbooks suggest they can be preserved in oil and refrigerated, but I have found that the peppers go rotten, usually within the week. Therefore I urge that they be frozen.
To prepare peppers for the freezer, first scorch off their skins. I use a ridged top-of-the-stove steak grill and turn the peppers until the skins are blistered and blackened; I have also achieved this by broiling the peppers (great care must be taken not to burn them into oblivion) or by holding them at the end of a fork over an open gas flame.
The roasted peppers are then plunged into a plastic bag, where they cool and sweat for about 15 minutes. They are skinned, seeded, cut or torn into segments and placed on a waxed-paper-lined cookie sheet and put into the freezer. A couple of hours later, when they are rigid, they can be peeled off the paper and packed into freezer bags as separate segments.
On a dreadful winter day, when mealy, tasteless tomatoes are the only red vegetables on the market, these peppers will be defrosted to give a delicious red to a salad. Or they will be combined with anchovies for one of the great first courses I know. Or they will be used in a Sauce Bayonnaise over poached fish, or with shrimp or crab. Or they will be cooked with some Italian tomatoes for Escoffier's incredibly good pimento chutney. Or a jar of red bell pepper jam, which was put up because the freezer could receive no more, will be broken out. Poured over cream cheese and served on crackers, this will make a surprising and lovely accompliment to drinks. MARINATED ANCHOVIES WITH HERBS, PIMENTOS AND OLIVES (6 servings) 2 (2-ounce) cans flat anchovies in olive oil 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot 1/4 teaspoon or more finely chopped garlic Freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives, fresh or frozen 3 or 4 red bell peppers, skinned and roasted (or the frozen equivalent, defrosted) 12 black olives, Greek or Italian Buttered toast
Open the cans of anchovies and drain all their oil into a small mixing bowl. Add to it the lemon juice, olive oil, shallot, garlic and some black pepper. Beat these together with a fork and stir in the dill, parsely and chives. The mixture should be thick but still fluid; if it seems too dense thin it with a little more olive oil.
Arrange a circular 10- or 12-inch platter, alternating the anchovies with strips of the red pepper. Spread the herbed marinade over the "wheel" and garnish the edges with the black olives. Cover the platter loosely with waxed paper and let the anchovies marinate for at least an hour at room temperature. Serve with hot buttered toast. From Michael Field's Cooking School ESCOFFIER'S PIMENTO CHUTNEY (makes 3 cups) 1/2 pound Spanish or red onions, finely chopped 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 to 3 red peppers or 1 pound washed, cored, seeded and chopped 1/2 teaspoon each salt, powdered ginger, allspice and nutmeg 1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or a 28-ounce can of Italian plum tomatoes, drained 1 clove of garlic 1/4 pound raisins 1/2 pound sugar 1/2 cup good red wine vinegar
Melt the onions in the olive oil, add the peppers, salt and spices. Cook for 10 minutes and add the tomatoes, garlic, raisins, sugar and vinegar. Cook extremely slowly, covered, for at least one hour and a quarter. Stir often.
Bottled, the mixture keeps well for two or three weeks. It is good with cold lamb or beef. Adapted by Elizabeth David in "Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen" SAUCE BAYONNAISE (makes about 2 cups) 3 large red peppers, skinned and roasted, minced 2 tablespoons heavy cream 2 tablespoons cognac 2 tablespoons ketchup 1 teaspoon onion squeezed through a garlic press Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 cup freshly made mayonnaise (made with olive oil and lemon juice) Dash of mild Hungarian paprika Dash (smaller) of cayenne pepper
Place a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl. Put the minced pimentos through a food mill, using the finest disk, onto the cheesecloth. Or puree in a blender or processor and turn into the cheesecloth. Pick up the corners of the cloth and twist tightly to extract the juice. Place the cheesecloth back on the strainer to catch the last drops of juice, so that the puree will be as free of liquid as possible. This can be done several hours ahead of time.
Add the cream, cognac, ketchup, pressed onion, salt and pepper to the mayonnaise. Taste for seasoning. Put the well-drained puree of pimento in a bowl and, using a wire whisk, beat in the mayonnaise, starting with a small quantity and increasing the amount as you beat. Add the paprika and the cayenne pepper. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate until time to serve. Excellent with poached fish, shrimp, lobster or as a dressing for crab meat salad served in avocado halves. From Louisette Bertholle's "French Cuisine for All" ROSALIE AUSTER'S RED BELL PEPPER JAM 4 cups finely chopped red bell peppers (6 to 8 peppers) 2 cups cider vinegar 3 cups sugar
Soak the chopped peppers in the cider vinegar for several hours or overnight. Mix with the sugar and cook at a simmer until it is thick and syrupy. Process in a boiling bath in a canner in 1/2 pint sterilized jars for 20 minutes or freeze. Excellent served over cream cheese with crackers. Also delicious with curries.