This week's look at what's new, bountiful or even mysterious in the produce aisles.
Peppers come in two general types: hot and sweet. But when you're talking peppers, what "sweet" really means is "not hot." And that's a fair way to describe the most common bell peppers--the green ones--found in supermarkets all over America.
But they don't really taste sweet either.
That's left to the yellow--the sweetest--and orange (and to some extent red) varieties. Cultivated on a large scale by the Dutch, in this country these colorful capsicums hit stores and farmers markets in the late spring and are available throughout the summer.
Try using them in standard bell pepper recipes-- stewed, stuffed, stir-fried, marinated--and that sweetness, as well as their spectacular color, transforms the dish. A ratatouille with yellow or orange peppers and yellow squash, for example, looks and tastes more delicate than the more predictable green and red version; so does a peperonata or a stuffed pepper. A salad of yellow peppers and yellow tomatoes looks swell too--or orange peppers with mangoes.
Why are green bell peppers less sweet, more bitter and sometimes harder to digest than the yellow and orange (and red) ones? They're not fully ripe yet. When that happens, they change color, and whether that color turns out to be yellow or orange or red depends on the variety.
What to Look for: Firm peppers with smooth, shiny skin without soft or dark spots.
Storage: Raw bell peppers can be kept for up to a week in the refrigerator in the crisper in a fruit and vegetable bag or in a plastic bag with holes punched in it.
How to Prepare and Serve: These beautiful vegetables can be used raw in salads or salsas or slaws, and for decoration on pizzas or atop cold summer soups. But many people prefer cooked peppers to raw ones, whatever the color. Bake peppers in a preheated oven at 400 to 425 degrees or grill them over stove burners or an open barbecue flame until the skin blackens but doesn't turn white.
On a gas stove, place the peppers directly over the burners, turning them frequently with tongs to char all sides of the pepper. With electric burners, James Peterson, the author of "Vegetables" (William Morrow, 1998), suggests making a rack with a wire hanger and resting it on the coils to keep the peppers about one-eighth inch above the coils. Again turn them (that "rack" will be hot!). Or, if you have an outdoor grill going, place the peppers on the metal grid and turn as above. You can also char the peppers under a broiler, skin-side up.
Before peeling, put the charred peppers in a covered container or a plastic bag to steam for about 10 minutes. Then rinse under cold water and pat dry. Pull off the skin with your fingers or, if necessary, use a paring knife.
To slice them (raw or cooked), cut into the pepper around its stem with a paring knife and remove it. Then slice horizontally into rings or through one side lengthwise to open it up. Flatten the pepper and remove the seeds and ribs. Slice the flattened pepper into whatever size strips or shapes you want. If you like, you can save the raw slices for future (cooked) use by freezing them in a sealed plastic bag.