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Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Intensive gardening yields fine crop of red bell peppers

August 30, 2006

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For several years I have planted red bell peppers in the garden because they are so delicious but often are fairly expensive in the supermarket. It's not unusual to see them priced as high as $3 apiece, which puts them out of the reach of most shoppers, at least on a regular basis.

Toward the end of July I usually end up with a dozen or so, but this year the harvest for hot-weather veggies was delayed by a late planting in the spring. One of the pleasant surprises of this otherwise trying summer in the garden has been a late offering of red bell peppers.

These peppers are small, owing to the lack of rainfall throughout the summer, and they are survivors, as many of their fellows succumbed to attacks by ruthless and relentless predators, from hornworms to grasshoppers. The fact that they have arrived a bit out of season makes them all the more precious and probably adds to my assessment that the flavor of these peppers is exquisite.

While red bell peppers can be used in cooking, salads and just about anywhere the green variety might go, I am convinced that the flavor of red bell peppers is optimized when they are broiled and marinated. Prepared in this way, red bell peppers take on a deep, roasted flavor that contrasts well with cheeses and breads and complements chicken and pasta dishes that use a white sauce.

In addition, marinated peppers can be stored in the refrigerator for later use, which makes the additional steps required to prepare them seem inconsequential.

The following instructions and marinade are from Maryana Vollstedt's "What's for Dinner?" Some cookbooks suggest greasing the skins of the peppers, but this isn't necessary and can cause the skins to burn too quickly, before the flesh is heated through.

Simply preheat the broiler and line a broiler pan or edged cookie sheet with foil. Slice the peppers in half and remove the seeds and stems. At 2-inch intervals, make a 1-inch gash in the edges of the pepper halves. Place the pepper halves on the pan, skin side up, and press down to flatten them.

Place the peppers under the broiler until the skin is charred, about 10 minutes. Then place the peppers in a paper sack or covered bowl to cool. After about 15 minutes, peel off the skins.

A basic marinade for two roasted red peppers, which can be doubled to accommodate more, consists of: 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 or 2 cloves of garlic minced, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a dash of salt. Add a few turns of ground pepper if you like. Mix the ingredients and pour them over the peppers. Place the marinating peppers in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, until they are chilled and the flavors have melded.

My personal favorite use of roasted red peppers is in an open-face sandwich. The peppers should be set on a slice of good French bread with just a few caramelized onions, covered with Fontina or another mild cheese and placed under the broiler.

Similarly, they can be placed on small toasts or crostini along with feta and served as an hors d'oeuvres. The flavor of roasted red pepper works in small portions with a sharp cheese like feta, but it is substantial enough that it really shines when it is set off against a neutral backdrop, such as a Fontina sandwich.

Grape, corn and red bell pepper relish

This colorful, crunchy sweet/savory relish is an excellent accompaniment for grilled/seared chicken breast or fillet of fish, such as salmon, tuna or halibut. Makes six 1/2-cup servings.

1 cup cooked corn kernels, cut off the cob (from about 2 ears)

1 cup champagne grapes, pulled off the stem

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper (about 1/2 a small pepper)

1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno chili pepper

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped scallions (white and tender green parts; about 3 scallions)

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a medium bowl, toss all of the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate.

- The Associated Press

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