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Sweet Peppers for Frying, Roasting, and Enjoying

Fine Cooking Issue 29
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Look for brightly colored, glossy fruits

When you’re choosing sweet peppers, freshness is critical for good quality and flavor

Round cherry peppers come in both sweet and hot varieties. Stuff sweet ones with feta or mozzarella cheese. Pickle them with chunks of other vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, and cucumbers for a beautiful way to preserve the tastes of summer.
Sweet Hungarian peppers can be pointy, blunt, or lobed but are generally smaller than American bells. They range in color from chartreuse to pale yellow to soft orange to bright red, and from sweet to hot. With their mild but full flavor, they’re great in stews, soups, stir-fries, or to stuff and bake.

All sweet peppers start out green and then ripen to the color that they’re bred to be, whether it’s yellow, gold, orange, red, or chocolate brown. (The purple and creamy white bell peppers recently on the market are actually in intermediate stages of ripening. And purple peppers turn green when you cook them, so if you like the color, use them raw). At the green stages, peppers are less sweet and can be harder to digest. I find that people who say they don’t like peppers have probably only eaten green ones. Green peppers are, of course, okay to eat, but I recommend buying ripe ones if they’re available.

American bell peppers are easy to spot on most grocery shelves. They’re blocky and uniform in shape with three or four lobes and thick, crunchy walls. You’ll find them in a wide range of colors: green, cream, yellow, orange, red, and even chocolate brown. The most commonly available sweet pepper, American bells are a delicious multipurpose pepper; great for frying, roasting, grilling, stuffing, pickling, or eating out of hand.
Holland peppers, also called Lamuyotype peppers, are similar to American bells, but they’re more elongated and somewhat irregular in shape. Like standard American peppers, you’ll see them in a range of colors. Once shipped in from the Netherlands, they’re now easier to find here.

Select bright, firm peppers with no soft spots or blemishes. Skins should be glossy and smooth with a visible sheen. Look for strong, clear color, whether it’s ivory, yellow, gold, orange, crimson, or chocolate; fully colored peppers have more sugars, better flavor, and are higher in beta carotene and vitamin-C. Stay away from rubbery-feeling, bruised, or dull-skinned peppers—they don’t look or taste as good.

Cubanelles, a specialty of the Caribbean and Cuba, are 4 to 6 inches long. They’re mild tasting and delicious fried up for a po’boy, Philly cheesesteak, or traditional Cuban sandwich to fill with onions and slow-roasted pork. You can also pickle them or slice them for crispy baked or fried rings.
Pimientos are classic, thick-walled sweet peppers worth seeking out. They’re either heart shaped or look like ribbed, flattened globes. They’re rich bright crimson or yellow and have thick, sweet, crunchy flesh. I love to eat pimientos fresh, just like an apple.

Most pepper varieties are multipurpose. They’re good for frying, roasting, grilling,pickling, or just eating fresh.That said, some are moresuited than others to certainkinds of cooking. Thin-walled peppers like Cubanelles are often called frying peppers because they fry up more easily than thick-walled peppers do, while fleshy peppers like regular American bells and old-fashioned pimientos are better for stuffing and roasting. Little round cherry peppers are easiest to pickle whole.

Store peppers in the fridge in plastic vegetable bags and bring them to room temperature before using them. You’ll get the crispest texture and fullest flavor this way.

I love to gently sauté a colorful mix of sliced sweet peppers in a little olive oil until the peppers are slightly caramelized. Sometimes I add garlic or onions, but other times I just season them with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Then I heap these succulent morsels onto some fresh, crusty bread to feast on with some shaved Asiago and an oaky California Chardonnay.

Italian bull’s horn or Italian frying peppers are the Godzillas of the pepper world—they can grow as long as 12 inches. Green early in the season but deep yellow or red when fully ripe, they have crispy, very sweet flesh that’s perfect for slow sautéing in fruity olive oil with a little garlic and fresh herbs.
Sweet banana wax peppers are mild tasting and crisp, with thinner walls than American bell peppers. Banana peppers can also be quite pungent; mild varieties come early in the season and are good for pickling, cut into rings for fresh salads, or sautéed with lean pork or chicken.

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