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Pick Those Peppers

September 05, 1996|MARY CARROLL

All summer I've been nurturing my eight pepper plants, staking them as the peppers got long and heavy. Now they're ready to harvest.

Peppers come in all shapes and sizes--and certainly in all degrees of heat. I use this rule of thumb to guess the spiciness of the five varieties in my garden: the larger and greener the pepper, the sweeter; the smaller and redder, the hotter.

Vegetable peppers are members of the capsicum family. The long, skinny peppers known as chiles get their heat from the interior seed-bearing membrane (technically known as the dissepiment).

You can burn sensitive eyes and skin if you absent-mindedly rub them while dissecting a hot pepper. Those new to cooking chiles often wear rubber gloves to prevent painful surprises.

The varieties of sweet peppers most gardeners love are called bells, notable for their bell-like shape. Their seeds are also slightly hot, but they have nowhere near the amount of heat of the chile.

By September, most of the green pods are ripening to a deep red in the sun. You can pick them--and cook them--either in the green or red stage; the red will be slightly sweeter, like ripened fruit.

Roasting peppers brings out even more sweetness and a delicious barbecued flavor. Our outdoor grill still provides main courses in autumn, but pepper roasting can also be done over the stove top flame or under the broiler. Cook the chile or bell pepper until the skin smokes and blackens. To make the roasted peppers easy to peel, place them in a paper bag, fold the top of the bag to loosely seal and let the peppers stand for 10 minutes. Then slip off the peels under cold running water.

RED PEPPER BUTTER

This is a great example of how sweet bell peppers become when roasted. I use this spread as a low-fat toast topper or dip at parties.

2 large shallots, minced

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded

Place shallots and vinegar in saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat. Transfer cooked shallots to food processor or blender.

Add white pepper, salt, butter and roasted red peppers. Puree until smooth. Transfer mixture to small dish. Cover and chill until butter has hardened.

Makes 1/2 cup or 6 to 8 servings.

Each of 8 servings contains about:

21 calories; 163 mg sodium; 4 mg cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams protein; 0.11 gram fiber.

PEPPER-CORN RELISH

Summer relish is a great frozen or canned staple to remind you of warmer days. This relish also keeps three weeks in the refrigerator. To can, spoon the relish into sterilize hot half-pint jars and carefully wipe jar rims. Place sterilized lids on jars, then place rings on lids. Tighten rings. Lower jars into boiling water bath and process 20 minutes. Carefully remove jars without tipping them and place on towel to cool. Store at room temperature after jars seal.

Kernels from 5 ears sweet corn

1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 fresh jalapen~os, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup diced red onion

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup apple cider vinegar

Combine corn, green and red bell peppers, jalapen~os, onion, honey, mustard and celery seeds, turmeric and vinegar in large, heavy-bottomed pan and bring to boil. Place pan over low heat and simmer, uncovered, 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

Makes 3 to 5 cups.

Each tablespoon from 5 cups contains about:

13 calories; 1 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 grams fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 grams protein; 0.07 gram fiber.

VEGETARIAN STUFFED PEPPERS

Stuffed peppers are a favorite main dish. In this vegetarian version, the peppers are filled with sauteed vegetables, ricotta cheese and a small amount of almonds and olives. Use red bell peppers for the sweetest and most colorful entree.

4 large red or green bell peppers

4 slices whole-wheat or sourdough French bread

1/2 cup defatted broth

2 tablespoons dry Sherry or apple juice

1/2 cup minced onion

1 cup minced mushrooms

1 tablespoon chopped almonds

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped black olives

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons whole-wheat bread crumbs

Slice tops off peppers and seed them.

Place bread in small bowl with broth to soften 10 minutes, then squeeze out excess moisture. Crumble soaked bread and set aside.

Place soaking stock and Sherry in 10-inch nonstick skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add onion, mushrooms, almonds and olives and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid evaporates, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add soaked bread and ricotta cheese and mix well.

Spoon filling into peppers and place them in large baking dish. Top with Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes or until peppers are soft.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

228 calories; 402 mg sodium; 13 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 28 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 1.15 gram fiber.

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