Sweet bell peppers have a dual personality. Enjoyed raw, they have a fresh crunch. When roasted, however, their sweetness intensifies, and, if they are roasted on a grill, a pungent smokiness invades this sweetness.
Roasted peppers are so appealing and versatile, it's worth grilling a dozen. They keep nicely in the refrigerator after peeling. Dice them for potato, pasta or bean salads, add to almost any sandwich or burger, offer on an antipasto platter, puree and stir into sour cream for dipping, layer into lasagna.
We can enjoy sweet bell peppers year-round. The big beauties that pop up in the produce section during winter months may come from the Netherlands, California, Florida or Mexico. But this time of year, gardens and produce stands are overflowing with a local bounty of shiny and flavorful sweet peppers in a variety of colors.
For some recipes it's fun to cook peppers of multiple colors -- yellow, black (purple), orange and green. But I find that red, yellow and orange peppers give the sweetest flavor.
Roasted or Grilled Peppers
No grill? You may instead blacken the peppers under the broiler, directly over the flame of a gas burner or in a 450-degree oven. Steam and peel as directed below.
Lemon juice (optional)
To grill the peppers: Prepare a hot fire in grill. Place the peppers on the the grill directly over the flame. Grill until the skin is completely blackened, using tongs to turn the peppers as necessary, 5 to 10 minutes, depending upon how hot the fire is. (If you have too many peppers to fit on the grill at one time, you'll have to grill them in batches.)
To roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the peppers directly on the oven rack. Roast until the skin is completely blackened, using tongs to turn the peppers as necessary, about 15 minutes.
To broil the peppers: Adjust the oven rack to about 6 inches from the heat source. Place the peppers on the broiler pan and broil, using tongs to turn the peppers as necessary, 5 to 7 minutes.
To peel the peppers: Using tongs, transfer the peppers to a large bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap or transfer them to a large brown supermarket bag and fold down the top of the bag. Let the peppers steam until they're cool enough to comfortably handle, at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. Remove and discard the stems, seeds and any rib material from inside each bell pepper.
Using your fingers, brush off and discard the black bits of skin -- the skin will come off quite easily. (You may wish to use disposable gloves because colored peppers will stain the skin slightly.) Do not rinse the peppers under running water, as you'll lose some of the flavorful oils released during grilling.
Place the peeled peppers in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. They will keep for a couple of days. The peppers may release some more liquid; this is okay. To keep for up to 10 days, pack the peppers into a jar, cover with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, cover tightly and refrigerate.
Makes about 6 cups
The robust, smoky flavor of grilled vegetables lends a distinct edge to this ratatouille. Serve as a side dish to grilled meat or as a topping for grilled bread.
1 Italian eggplant, ends trimmed, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red onion, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1/3 cup olive oil, plus additional for grilling
2 large bell peppers (1 red, 1 color of choice), grilled or roasted, peeled and diced (see preceding recipe)
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
11/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Prepare a medium-hot fire in grill.
Brush the eggplant and onion slices lightly with oil. Grill them over direct heat, turning as necessary, until soft and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly. Dice the eggplant and onion.
In a large bowl, combine the eggplant, onion, peppers, oregano and thyme, vinegar, garlic, tomatoes and remaining 1/3 cup oil. Toss gently and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. If desired, drizzle with additional oil just prior to serving.
Per serving: 82 calories, 1 gm protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 151 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber
Roasted Bell Pepper and Olive Relish
4 to 8 servings
This pungent Mediterranean-inspired combination of flavors doubles as a side dish or a relish. Try it with grilled lamb.
3 large bell peppers (any color), grilled or roasted and peeled (see first recipe)
1/2 cup brine-cured Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
11/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh marjoram and/or oregano
Slice the peppers into julienne strips. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the olives, oil, vinegar, garlic and a generous grind of pepper. Add the peppers and toss to combine. Cover and set aside at room temperature to allows the flavors to meld for at least an hour (may cover and refrigerate overnight; return to room temperature before serving).
Sprinkle the salad with marjoram or oregano.
Per serving (based on 8): 73 calories, 1 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 75 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Roasted Red Bell Pepper Mayonnaise: Serve as a dip for fresh vegetables, slather on grilled fish or burgers, or spread on a vegetable or pork sandwich.
Puree 1 peeled, grilled or roasted red bell pepper (see first recipe) in a food processor. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl and stir in 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 crushed clove garlic, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Makes about 1 cup.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 52 calories, trace protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 1 gm saturated fat, 55 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Roasted Red Bell Pepper Butter: Smear on corn on the cob, grilled fish, steak or chicken, or slices of grilled bread.
In food processor, process 1 peeled, grilled or roasted red bell pepper (see first recipe), 4 tablespoons softened butter, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 crushed cloves garlic and salt and pepper to taste until well combined. Makes about 3/4 cup.
Per 1-tablespoon serving: 58 calories, 2 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 78 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Robin Kline, a food writer in Des Moines, last wrote for Food about parsley. She can be reached at RobinLkline@msn.com.
Pepper Particulars: A "medium" pepper will weigh about 3 ounces and yield about 3/4 to 1 cup diced or sliced pepper; 1 large pepper will weigh about 5 to 6 ounces and yield about 11/2 cups diced or sliced pepper.