Peppers, Peppers…and More Peppers


Being raised in a strong tradition of Southern Italian cuisine, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the most creative uses of nature’s simplest ingredients. Peppers were most assuredly one of them. Green and red bell peppers, slender fryers – both hot and sweet – pepperoncini, you name it. They all made an appearance on my mother’s dinner table in the most luscious ways imaginable.

Where to start? Well, one of my favorites was stuffed peppers. Mom actually had two versions in her culinary repertoire. When using sweet, red bell peppers she would stuff them with a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic, parsley, Parmigiano and rice. Covered with a bit of marinara (simple red sauce) they were popped into the oven until tender. Really nice. My favorites, though, were the long fryers. She’d split them in half and stuff them with a mixture of breadcrumb, garlic, parsley, Parmigiano, anchovies and olive oil. They were then baked until the breadcrumb was nicely browned. I ate copious amounts. Still do.

Another favorite growing up was what my mother’s mother called giambotta. Most definitely a peasant dish, this is a simple stew of red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and potatoes which is served as a side dish. I’ve actually called it dinner, with lots of crusty bread and a good Chianti. Another one of Nonna’s best dishes were roasted red peppers. She would char them whole on the stove top burner. When they were done, they went into a paper bag to steam off the blackened skin. Then they were seeded, sliced and dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and parsley. Simple, yes. Exquisite, most certainly.

Of course, no Southern Italian summer menu would be complete without the addition of sausage and peppers. There are so many ways to prepare this. My preferred method is to grill the sausage, cut them into bite size pieces and keep warm. I then sauté red or green peppers with lots of onions and garlic until tender, and combine the sausage into the mixture. At this point, you may add some tomato sauce and bake for a while – as the Neapolitans are wont to do. I keep it simple and serve as is. Nothing like it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Enough with the Italian stuff. Yes, it’s true. Italians don’t own peppers! And, being the consummate foodie, I enjoy them in any cuisine. Asian, for instance. What would a good stir fry be without the addition of peppers? Latino cuisine as well. I mean, without peppers a good sofrito wouldn’t be very good at all. And I don’t know where Mexican cooking would be without the pepper – especially chiles. But we’ll explore that in another blog. Even our own American fare makes use of sweet peppers. We include them in our salads, stews and good old fashioned home fries. We even add them to omelets for color and depth of flavor. As for pepper soup? Why not! Try Phyllis’ recipe below. It’s a winner.

So what is it about the pepper that makes it so coveted by so many lovers of the culinary arts? When working with the red bell, I believe it’s the inherent sweetness it possesses. As for the green bell, it imparts a nice freshness and aroma that is reminiscent of a home garden. The spicier varieties appeal to the more adventurous. But more than that, I believe is a textural thing as well. In their cooked state, peppers are somewhat meaty and add nice body to any dish. In their raw state, it’s the crunch that I look for. I’m sure you do as well.

Where are you with peppers in your kitchen? As always, I suggest creativity. Make a nice pepper and chicken sauté. Fry up some peppers and onions and enjoy them as a side to your steak. Dice them and mix them into your chicken salad. Have fun, and let me know what you come up with. I’m looking to expand my pepper horizons.

Victor Ribaudo

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

The perfect first course for a cool brisk autumn day is this golden savory
roasted yellow pepper soup. A light soup yet bursting with the heady flavor
of sun-ripened peppers, it’s quite easy to make. The secret is the roasting
of the peppers. Bring them to a blackened char and soft interior in the
oven and by no means dilute their flavor by taking the peel off under water.
A crusty ciabatta, delicate salad and grilled meat will add up to a
wonderful meal.
6 medium sweet yellow peppers
2 T unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, cut into a small dice
1 t salt (1/2 if using salted chicken broth)
¼ t white pepper
1 t freshly roasted and ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, mashed and chopped
2 T flour
4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)
2 cups whole milk
Crème fraiche and roasted red pepper powder for garnish
1. Rinse and dry peppers and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Roast
in a 400 degree oven until blackened, turning from time to time.
2. Remove from oven and place in a bowl covered with plastic wrap while
proceeding with recipe.
3. Melt butter in a large pot and add onions, salt, pepper and cumin and
cook until translucent.
4. Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant. Sprinkle on flour,
stirring and cooking for two minutes. Stir in chicken broth and bring to a
5. Pull the skins off the peppers (not under the faucet) and discard seeds,
membrane and stem.
6. Roughly chop peppers and add to pot. Simmer 10 minutes.
7. Stir in milk.
8. Puree in food processor. Pour back in pot and heat gently.
9. Serve in heated soup plates with a garnish of crème fraiche and a light
sprinkle of roasted red pepper powder. Serve 5 – 6.

Photographer Bill Brady

Written by Victor Ribaudo

Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika

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