Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Featured Item—Sweet Peppers

Sweet peppers are a general term for the variety of peppers that do not include the spicy ingredient Capsaicin.These include bell, cubanelle, wax, banana, pimento, sweet cherry, mild frying peppers, among many others.While the term sweet pepper technically includes mild green peppers, they are more often associated with the brightly colored red, yellow, or orange peppers, which tend to be sweeter than their green counterparts. Many, but not all, varieties of sweet peppers are green earlier in their maturation.If left to grow for longer periods they will turn red, orange, or yellow.However, some varieties stay green throughout the growing process.

We are lucky enough to sample several varieties of sweet peppers at the farm, many of which started out as shades of green, but which have started coming in red, orange or yellow as the season has progressed.The bell pepper varieties that we have been sampling are beginning to turn red or yellow.We have also experienced the whitish Flamingo pepper, which is now turning red; the lime colored Biscayne, which has become a deep orange; and the Purple Islander and Carmen Italian varieties that are turning red.

In addition to becoming more sweet, mature sweet peppers have significantly more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than earlier picked peppers (which again, are often, but not always, green).Since earlier picked peppers still have a lot of nutritional value, that makes the more mature “sweet” peppers even more of a nutritional powerhouse.They are particularly high in vitamin C, lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin E.

At their peak, sweet peppers should be vividly colored, heavy for their size, and have smooth, non-wrinkled skin and a fresh looking stem.They should have no blemishes, soft spots or black areas.Shriveled stems, wrinkles, or soft areas suggest that they are past their prime.Store peppers, unwashed, in plastic in the refrigerator.They should last about a week.However, immature peppers (like many of the green bell peppers) will last longer in cold storage than the riper ones (typically the red, orange and yellow peppers).

Sweet peppers are wonderful raw in any crudite platter.I especially love them as a snack with hummus.Raw sweet peppers are also a gem in many different salads and go with about any kind of vinaigrette or dressing.

In cooked preparations, sweet peppers get soft and even sweeter.They are great in soups/stews, in just about any sauté, or roasted, grilled, and broiled.Roasted sweet peppers offer a versatile ingredient for many recipes.Try using them in dips, pasta dishes, salads, and casseroles.See recipe below for a quick and easy way to roast sweet peppers.Also see recipes below for potentially new ideas for cooked sweet peppers.

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My family has recently discovered the pleasure of flatbread pizzas.I came up with this one when I had carrot top pesto I needed to use, but it would be good with any homemade or commercial pesto.

The easiest and fastest way I find to roast peppers is 1. To cut off both ends of the peppers, make a vertical cut down one side, and then take a knife around the inner sides to remove the membranes and seeds.This will make one long pepper strip which can be flattened by pressing gently.2.Coat pepper strips with olive oil or olive oil spray and place, skin side up, on baking sheet. 3.Broil about 6” from flame until skin is blistered and black and flesh is softened, about 5-8 minutes, depending upon your oven.4.Place peppers in a zip-loc bag and seal.Allow to steam for 10 minutes, then peel and cut.

Flatbread Pizza w/ Pesto & Roasted Sweet Peppers          serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

– 2 large sweet red or yellow peppers, roasted and skinned, cut into thin slices

– 1 slice Lavash or other large commercial flatbread, preferably whole wheat

– 2-3 tablespoons pesto, (try using Carrot Top and Parsley Pesto from this Blog)

– ¾ cup grated Italian blend or mozzarella cheese

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 425.Spray a baking sheet with olive oil spray or brush with olive oil.Spray both sides of Lavash with olive oil spray or brush with olive oil.Place Lavash on baking sheet and bake for about 4-5 minutes, turning once, or until Lavash bubbles and begins to brown on edges.Remove from oven and quickly spread a thin layer of pesto evenly over Lavash.Sprinkle evenly with cheese and then bell pepper strips.Return to oven and bake for 2-3 minutes, or until cheese has melted and Lavash is browned at the edges.Remove from oven and transfer to a cutting board.Cut into 4 pieces and serve.

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This recipe is a family favorite.It was adapted from Cooking Light to a) use an amount of chicken that is more typically sold in stores and that will feed a family of four b) to add a vegetable component (sweet red peppers) which goes great with the peanuty sauce, and c) to use canned tomatoes, since fresh tomatoes are just about gone for the season.Goes great with cooked brown rice.

Peanuty Chicken Curry with Sweet Peppers      Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

– 2 teaspoons peanut oil

– 1 large onion, chopped

– 3 large cloves garlic, minced

– 1 very large sweet red or yellow bell pepper, (or two medium), cut into 1/4″ thick slices (about 1 1/2″ long)

– 1 14.5 ounce can organic diced tomatoes, drained

– 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste

– 2 teaspoons curry powder

– 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth, preferably homemade

– 1/2 cup natural peanut butter

– 1 teaspoon salt

– 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

– 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced across the grain

METHOD:

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.Add sweet peppers and saute, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.Add drained tomatoes, tomato paste, and curry powder.Simmer, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have given up their juices and mixture is thick, about 5 minutes.Add broth, peanut butter, salt and cayenne and mix until blended.Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.Add chicken, mix in well, and bring to a simmer.Cook for 3-5 minutes or until chicken is just cooked through.

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This lightened bread is great for breakfast, or even better served with soups (I recently served it with a Roasted Acorn Squash Soup).It is adapted from a recipe from October 1998 Cooking Light.I have added onion, sweet red pepper, and Pancetta, which I think is an addictive combination.Feel free to substitute bacon if you do not have pancetta.

Lighter Parmesan Scones w/ Sweet Peppers and Pancetta      serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

– 6 thin slices pancetta, diced (about 2 ounces)

– 1/4 cup minced onion

– 1/3 cup minced sweet peppers

– 2 cups all purpose flour

– 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

– 2 tablespoons sugar

– 1 teaspoon baking powder

– 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

– 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 3/4 cup low fat buttermilk

– 2 tablespoons olive oil

– 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a small skillet cook pancetta over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and pancetta is just crisp, about 5 minutes.Using a slotted spoon, remove pancetta pieces to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.Discard all but 1 teaspoon fat in the skillet.Place skillet back on medium low heat and add onion and peppers.Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.Remove from heat and allow to cool.

3. Place flour, Parmesan, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, oregano, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk until combined.In small bowl, gently whisk buttermilk, olive oil and eggs.Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until combined.Gently add in cooked pancetta and vegetables.Mix well to incorporate but try not to overwork the dough.

4. Drop all of dough onto center of parchment-lined baking sheet.Using dampened hands, gently pat mixture into an 8″ diameter dome (you do want the top to be thicker than the sides).Place in oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden.Slide bread with parchment onto a cooling rack and cool.

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