by Eugenia Bone
If you’ve ever planted peppers then you know what overwhelming bounty is. It always amazes me how many peppers a scrawny little pepper plant can produce. And the variety! There’s a flavor for everyone, from hot to spicy to sweet. I love them all, but my heart belongs to the Bell, that stir-fry perennial.
Green bell peppers are unripe red or orange bell peppers, and they are great raw, and cooked with fish and shellfish. Red (or orange) sweet peppers are also good raw, and perfect for broiling, marinating, and stewing. Look for wrinkle free peppers with shiny, taut skin. One medium-sized bell pepper yields about ½ cup chopped pepper, and there are 4 or 5 medium peppers to a pound. They grow in eleven out of thirteen hardiness zones, and from what I can tell, that means everywhere on the continental US. Bells are resistant to most pests, which may be why you see a gazillion of them in farmers markets in the summer, usually at pretty great prices. Yeah, it’s hard to just buy one.
That’s what got me started marinating and canning them. I put up a pint or two a week throughout the season, usually while I am hanging around the kitchen cooking dinner anyway. And I eat them like crazy in fresh dishes. I broil and peel them and make salads with boiled shrimp, or warm potatoes or canned tuna fish. I’ll sauté a mass of sliced ripe bells with onions and sometimes garlic and from that make multiple dishes: pan cook veal chops with peppers, onions, and white wine; pureed peppers and onions thinned with a bit of chicken stock and poured over penne, then garnished with Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley; a summer fish stew composed of skate, squid and mussels, peppers and onions, and seasoned with a dash of vinegar.
But I think my favorite summer pepper dish is sautéed peppers and onions with eggs poached on top. This was the dish that my father dreamt of when he was a frightened infantryman in Austria in 1944, the dish I dreamt of when I was living in a windowless room in the back of a bar in New Orleans in the early ’80s, the dish my daughter dreamt of as she trudged through the Canadian snow to get to class last year. No dish is more personal to me, and I think that’s because it is simple and true and embodies two very important things: summer and home.
Edible Dallas & Fort Worth is a quarterly local foods magazine that promotes the abundance of local foods in Dallas, Fort Worth and 34 North Texas counties. We celebrate the family farmers, wine makers, food artisans, chefs and other food-related businesses for their dedication to using the highest quality, fresh, seasonal foods and ingredients.