The past few days have been relatively cool, which only emphasizes how hot it has been in general this summer. Though we exhaust and dehydrate ourselves in the swampy, sticky North Carolina heat most days on the farm, we wouldn’t have it any other way, because it allows us to grow our favorite and arguably most valuable produce: peppers. If you’ve been keeping up with the season, you’d notice that we start of with a variety of mild to hot green frying peppers like shishito, anaheim and poblano. At this point in the season, though, we can begin to harvest the most agreeable of pepper plants, the sweet bells. They cause no controversy or debate over relative heat level, and can therefore be used in myriad dishes that encompass all meals of the day, even snacks between our three traditional periods of ingestion.
Contrary to what one might think, sweet peppers are the exception as far as heat is concerned in the genus capsicum, which includes all peppers and chilis we are accustomed to eating. Nearly all species of capsicum contain capsaicin, the compound that makes your mouth burn, a defense mechanism developed to discourage mammals from eating the fruit due to the fact that their digestive systems make the seeds non-viable for germination. Even the word capsicum comes from the Greek kapos, “to bite”. Pepper enthusiasts measure levels of capsaicin in scoville units, and it is with great pleasure that we announce bell peppers register absolute zero on that scale.
Incorporating peppers into your cooking (if you don’t already) is really easy; they are delicious and can fortify the flavor of many dishes. In creole and cajun cuisine they often are added to mirepoix, the classic trio of vegetables consisting of onion, celery, and carrot that are used in many classical french sauces. If you have the time, you can add them to a pan with onions and garlic, slowly cooking them down and caramelizing them over multiple hours to make sofrito, an extremely flavorful mixture you can throw into your eggs, serve as a dipping sauce for meat and grilled vegetables, or added to soups and sauces for extra savoriness. If you have the time, try hollowing out peppers whole, and stuffing them with different combinations of rice, beans, cheese, meat and other cooked vegetables - or all of the above. Then roast them in the oven until the contents of the pepper shell are warmed and the pepper itself is cooked.
Simplicity reigns when we cook for ourselves at Piedmont Biofarm, and I don’t think there is anything we can recommend more than simply roasting peppers until their skin blisters and begins to fall off. If you can do this over wood fire, all the better. Remove the seeds, chop them up, and add to almost anything to achieve pure deliciousness. You can make a big batch, and store it packed in a jar with oil in your fridge for multiple weeks, taking out only what you need on a case-by-case basis.
One of our most popular CSA and Farmer's Market items in the miniature bell pepper variety we grow. They are brightly colored, very sweet, and perfectly bite-sized. Eating them raw as a snack is a great way to curb your hunger throughout the day, but if you'd like to do something more substantial, you could do a roasted and stuffed version for dinner.
1 pint mini-bell peppers (about 12-15 peppers)
one recipe sweet potato leaf stuffing
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup walnuts
Take about 1 cup of sweet potato leaf stuffing and mix it in a bowl with the goat cheese and walnuts until everything is combined. Set aside. Take all mini bell pepper tops off with a knife, and set them aside. Use a paring knife, a small spoon, or even your fingers to remove all seeds and white ribs from the inside of the peppers. Fill each pepper to the top with stuffing mixture and place tops back on. Set all peppers on a baking sheet lightly greased with olive oil and place in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until peppers have cooked through the the filling is warm. Let cool briefly and enjoy!
When storing peppers, ideally you want to keep them between 45 and 55 degrees fahrenheit, but your fridge at home will do the trick just fine. Keep them away from other fruits, as they will release more ethylene and spoil quicker. If you can, keep them in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge and eat ripe ones within a week. When faced with the challenges of a busy schedule, it may be advantageous to cut up and freeze your peppers so you can utilize them at a more leisurely pace, and access them fairly quickly when breakfast, lunch, or dinner need to be made in a flash.