Howard L. Puckett
There’s no disguising a bell pepper. While summer vegetables such as zucchini and eggplant tend to absorb other flavors, bell peppers assert themselves in dishes. Even when used as a garnish―say, finely diced bell pepper showered over pasta or grilled scallops―the bright taste of the pepper hits your palate first.
Sweet yet bold, bell peppers team well with other flavorful ingredients such as capers, garlic, robust herbs, olives, onions, tangy cheeses, and―naturally―hot peppers. Eaten raw, they’re crunchy and refreshing. When cooked, they grow soft and luscious, and their flavor sweetens and mellows. And as an added bonus, their gorgeous, racy colors―red, orange, yellow, and even purple―can brighten and enliven plain dishes.
Like so many vegetables these days, bell peppers are now available year-round in supermarkets, thanks in part to imports from Mexico and Holland. But nothing beats a homegrown bell pepper at the peak of the growing season―which runs from July through November―when it’s crisp, juicy, and full of sharp flavor.
Bell peppers take well to all sorts of cooking methods. They can be stuffed and baked, stewed, sautéed, grilled, roasted, or stir-fried. All of the following recipes offer great ways to enjoy them.
• Choose bell peppers that feel firm and heavy for their size. Their skins should be smooth, shiny, and unblemished, free of any pocks or soft spots.
• Store whole, unwashed bell peppers in a plastic bag in your refrigerator crisper. Since red peppers are near or at peak ripeness, they won’t last long; use them within three or four days of purchase.
• To trim, slice bell peppers in half lengthwise. Pull out and discard the stems and seeds. Slice the halves lengthwise again. Slice and discard membranes from inside each quarter. Slice or chop as needed.