Maybe you’re not into the whole marathon canning and preserving project thing–you don’t have the time or inclination to put up five cases of zucchini relish, and/or you have no idea what you’d do with all that once you had it.
Not to worry. There are lots of small, special projects you can do to preserve the bounty of the season without a huge amount of work or ending up with more product than you know what to do with.
Case in point: last night’s project in the BSB kitchen.
Sweet peppers are in season–this is the tail end of the season, too, which means many of those peppers are ripening to their red or yellow or orange (or purple!) color which signifies they’ve reached their peak–their penultimate sweetness.
The typical green bell pepper that we’re all used to seeing at 25 or 50 cents (or a buck apiece in the off-season) is typically the very same variety that, down the aisle in your grocery’s produce section, is glowing red and very pricey.
So why are the red/ripe ones so much more expensive? It’s because they have to stay on the plant longer–out in the field where so many unfortunate events can occur–pest infiltration, disease, rot–things that make the fruit compost instead of a money-maker.
One way to get your ripe peppers and eat them, too is to pick or buy them from a local producer when they first start turning from green to their ripe color. Once this process starts, the pepper is full-sized and will continue to ripen while sitting in the relative safety of your kitchen.
In a few days, you’ll have a gorgeous, glossy, fully ripe pepper, and unlike tomatoes, which tend to attract fruit flies once they hit that peak of perfection, intact peppers usually dry up rather than split open and rot.
And even moderately wrinkly peppers are just fine to use for cooking and preservation projects such as this one.
Have a glass jar at the ready–a canning jar or old pickle or mayonnaise jar works just fine so long as it’s clean. It’s good to sterilize the jar first–pour some boiling water over/into it or immerse it in a pot of boiling water.
Take your mess of sweet ripe peppers and wash them, set them on a towel to try, then cut off the tops, split them lengthwise (maybe in quarters if you have big, blocky bell peppers), and seed/de-vein them. Cut out any bad spots. Save the little pieces from the caps for another recipe.
Put those peppers skin-side-up on an ungreased cookie sheet and set them under the broiler until their skins start the char and bubble. It doesn’t take long–just a couple minutes if the rack is right up near the broiler element.
Wave a damp towel around the smoke detector at this point to stop it from screeching.
You can also char the peppers outside on the grill–the skin side should face the flame. You don’t want to seriously cook the pepper (though they will be partially cooked from all that heat), you just want to blacken the peel.
Once the peppers are blackened, take them out/off, and let them cool enough to handle, then peel off as much of the blackened skin as you can. The point is not to get every last bit off (I don’t recommend running them under the tap), but to remove most of it while retaining that roasted, smoky flavor.
If the pieces are bigger than you’d like them, cut them. Either way, as you finish peeling each piece, stuff it down in the jar. You may find your jar is bigger than you’ll really need–peppers don’t take up a lot of space once they’re roasted and crammed in there.
When you’re nearly through peeling your succulent roasted peppers (or your jar is full), prepare a brine to cover them. For a one quart jar, I used one cup water, one cup vinegar, and a tablespoon of pickling salt.
I usually use white vinegar, but for some reason I couldn’t find the gallon jug of it I thought I had. So, I used a combination of white balsamic and cider vinegar. Since these won’t be “canned” per se, you could use table or sea salt–some salts are “saltier” than others–use what you like.
Set the brine on the stove to boil, stirring ’til the salt dissolves. When it comes to a boil, ladle the brine over the peppers, occasionally running a knife down along the inside edges of the jar and pressing inward just a bit to release the air bubbles.
Top off the jar with brine if necessary–just to fully cover all the pepper strips. Then, if you like, pour a layer of olive oil over the top of that, so when you remove the peppers, they slip through the coating of oil, catching a lovely bit of flavor along the way. Yum!
Put the cap on the jar, and once it’s cool enough, stick it in your fridge. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Except, of course, the eating. Which is the best part.
They’ll last pretty much indefinitely, I hear, though around my place, they seem to disappear fairly rapidly once we start eating them.
My favorite “party” way to serve them is to take a cracker and spread it a bit of rich cheese (I love chêvre–but a slice of sharp cheddar is awesome, too), then top with a little piece of roasted sweet pepper.
But most of the time I’m not so fancy about it–I eat them on sandwiches or homemade pizza (you could add them to a store-bought pizza) or in salads–chop a few to add to an otherwise bland-looking/tasting casserole or veggie dish. They’re good in tuna or egg salad, too.
I recommend using the thicker-fleshed varieties of pepper such as bells or Italian bulls horn-types for this recipe, since what you really want is the thick, juicy flesh.
I used a number of heirloom Jimmy Nardello frying peppers and they were much diminished after peeling. The Italian Sweets (bull horn type) worked better.
You can also use this recipe for putting up a jar or two of hot peppers (roasted or not, and with oil or not) if you like those pickled slices of jalapeño on your pizza or sandwiches.
The point, really, is to take advantage of the huge amount of peppers you can get for a good price in season to make this easy recipe.
Roasted red peppers tend to be an incredibly expensive specialty food in stores, but made at home they’re just as good (maybe better!) and a heckuva lot cheaper.
And when you bring them to a potluck party and people “ooh” and “ahh” over their amazing flavor, you can impress them by saying you made them yourself!
And then, because you are a good person, a nice person, you can tell them how. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
[A note about the salt in this recipe. Yes, it seems like a lot. You could probably use a little less, but remember that these are a treat–a condiment. If you’re on a restricted-sodium diet, just don’t eat a lot of them.]