What do autumn leaves and red peppers have in common? They both start off green, full of chlorophyll, and turn red in the fall.
Chlorophyll is a huge, complex molecule responsible for photosynthesis, which“ is largely responsible for producing and maintaining the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere and supplies most of the energy needed for life on Earth,” says Wikipedia.
So your green leaves and green peppers both produce oxygen and energy. The cooler temperatures and shorter days of fall trigger change. Trees and peppers degrade the green chlorophyll into bright yellow, orange, and red compounds. In the peppers these are health-promoting phytochemicals and antioxidants, like vitamins C and A. The shift in flavor is astounding, changing from grassy and slightly bitter to aromatic, fruity and sweet. (I haven’t tasted the leaves .…)
Fall is the season for sweet red peppers, and now is the time to use them lavishly. Yes, red peppers cost more. That’s because they ripen on the plant longer while developing those beneficial compounds and rich flavors. At the same time, they are exposed to more destructive forces like insects, molds and sun scald.
Pick thick-fleshed, bright red, firm peppers at the grocery or Farmer’s Market. Raw sweet red peppers are a delight in salads as a crunchy garnish or as scoops for dips. Cooking concentrates and intensifies the natural sugars and flavors. Try the following experiment and see which method you like. To start, buy three pounds.
Chopraw peppers into half-inch pieces and sauté in olive oil with chopped garlic, onions, salt and pepper until the peppers are shriveled and have brown spots. Taste. Adjust seasoning.* Taste again. Wow! Fried red peppers are great alone, but don’t stop there. Toss them with pasta and grated Romano cheese, scramble them with eggs, make Chicken Cacciatoria, or try my Sweet Red Pepper Fritatta recipe below.
Place whole peppers on a grill over a hot flame. If you have a gas stove or barbecue, set them on the burner grid; if your range is electric, roast under the broiler. Grill over a wood fire for an even more complex, sweet-smoky flavor. Using tongs, turn the peppers often. You’re looking for a blush of char (not charcoal) here. When lightly blackened all over, toss the peppers into a bowl and pop on a lid. Allow them to cool, then the skins will easily slip off underrunning water. Remove the skins, stems and seeds.
Fora sumptuous Roasted Red Pepper Salad, cut the peppers up, drizzlethem with extra-virgin olive oil, a grind of pepper and a flourish ofsalt. Add another layer with sliced, fresh mozzarella. Mamma mia, dothat’s good! Expand this idea with cooked cubed potatoes, Greek olives, white beans and/or chopped fresh herbs. You don’t need a recipe.
I freeze hundreds of red peppers every fall to add some color to the gray days of winter. I love this recipe from Spain: Potatoes in Roasted Red Pepper Dressing. Check it out under Recipes, below.
and make red pepper paste: Remove the stems and seeds and put the peppers into a blender. Add a few teaspoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt and sugar, and grind as smoothly as possible. Pour this puree into a wide skillet and heat over a gentle flame. Cook slowly and stir regularly, to a jam-like consistency. Taste and adjustseasoning.* Chill. Then get out the crackers and cheese for a smackdown super-flavor, super-healthy appetizer.
Absolutely modify the spices — garlic, onions, curry powder, marjoram, thyme, etc. — to your taste. Use red pepper paste on and in anything, like toast, in sandwiches, minestrone soup or hummus. One pound of red peppers will give you about ½ cup of highly concentrated summer sunshine. You will not have enough. Make more.
When the leaves start turning it’s red-pepper season. Fresh, fried, fire-roasted or paste, enjoy them now and fill your freezer for a taste of summer sun all winter long!
*Adjust seasoning: While cooking always taste your dish before you serve it. Add salt, sugar, pepper and more spices or herbs to achieve a perfect balance.
Sweet Red Pepper Fritatta
Makes one 10-1/2”-diameter skillet, 4-6 servings
1/4-pound pasta, spiral rotini or tubes
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (about 3) red peppers, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped firm tomatoes
2 large pinches cracked red pepper, more or less to taste
Additional olive oil, as needed
Cook pasta in boiling water al dente. Rinse with cold water. Toss with a little olive oil and set aside. Beat eggs together and add cheese.
Heat1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet (preferably cast iron)and sauté peppers, garlic and onion until golden. Add salt, tomatoes and cracked red pepper. Remove from pan, scrape clean and set aside.
Pour the remaining olive oil into the scraped pan. Heat over medium flame, then add enough eggs to cover the bottom of the pan. Add half of the other ingredients, distributing them well. Cover with half the remaining eggs, then the other half of the ingredients. Finish with the remaining eggs. Cover and cook over low heat until set. Flip the fritatta over and cook the top. Alternatively, slide the fritatta under a broiler and cook until the top is firm. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Potatoes In Red Pepper Dressing
A classic Spanish tapas dish. Serves 6.
2 pounds red or white potatoes, all about the same size
1 pound red bell peppers
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste or miso
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
12 black olives, pitted (preferably Greek)
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil potatoes in simmering water until just tender for 20-30 minutes depending upon the size of the potatoes. Drain and chill. Peel and cut into one-inch pieces. Boil eggs 15 minutes. Run under cold water and peel. Cut olives into quarters.
Roast the peppers. Place them under a broiler, on the open flame of a gas range, or on a charcoal grill. Turn frequently until the skin is well charred and bubbly all over but not burned through. Wrap in a damp towel. To peel, dunk pepper in cold water. Skin will peel off easily. Remove stem and seeds.
Place the peppers, cayenne pepper, sugar and anchovy paste or miso in food processor or blender and process until pureed. Add oil and vinegar and buzz until blended.
Ina medium bowl combine potatoes, roasted pepper sauce and olives. Toss lightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Keeps refrigerated for five days.
Photos by Molly
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.