I grew up in England, where bell peppers were considered exotic in the late 1970s. The only time we saw them was as a fancy garnish. For family buffets, I remember my grandmother ornamenting her rice salad with bright red bell pepper rings and decking out the tuna fish pâté with a flower motif made from green bell pepper strips, neatly cut red pepper diamonds, and sliced hard boiled eggs. Even today, you typically find raw bell peppers tossed into salads, scattered over pizzas, or skewered between cubes of meat and onion.
But raw peppers lack the deliciously sweet flavor that comes from cooking them until their flesh begins to collapse and their juices concentrate. I rely on two simple methods to bring out the deep, rich flavor and soft texture of bell peppers, making them far more versatile than when they’re left raw. Rather than standing out as a crisp and sharp garnish, roasted peppers enhance and marry well with the vegetables and herbs available at this time of year.
My first method is to slow-roast bell peppers in the oven, which allows their sharpness to fade and their natural sugars to intensify. I simply put the peppers on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in a 400ºF oven, turning occasionally so they get browned all over. Because they cook for nearly an hour, the peppers lose all their crunch and develop a wonderful, velvety texture. The long cooking time allows the heat to coax out every bit of sweetness and results in soft and juicy pepper pieces that purée beautifully into a silky soup and melt into a creamy, savory tart.
My second method—roasting peppers over a flame—makes them intensely rich, sweet, and juicy. This is the quicker of the two cooking methods and results in a slightly firmer pepper, which is what you want to add body to pastas and side dishes like relishes. For this method, I like to grill peppers over a gas or charcoal grill, but you can also char them over the flame of a gas stove or under a broiler.
Test Kitchen: Tips for handling roasted peppers
For both methods, it’s necessary to remove the skin of the pepper after cooking. This is easiest if you let the peppers steam immediately after they are cooked. I put the grilled peppers in a bowl and cover with a plate, and I leave the oven-roasted peppers on the baking sheet and cover them with a dishtowel. The steam separates the skin from the softened pepper flesh. Once the peppers are cool, it’s not hard to peel the thin skin off with your hands.
So the next time you see a colorful array of bell peppers in the market, grab a few and oven- or fire-roast them. Then make the most of the bright, sweet flavor of your roasted peppers by trying one of the recipes here.
What’s in a color?
Many people don’t realize that most bell peppers start out green and ripen to become red, orange, and yellow peppers. The longer the pepper ripens on the plant, the more the flavor mellows and the more sugar the vegetable develops, which explains why green bell peppers have a sharp and sometimes bitter flavor. The color the pepper turns when fully ripe depends on the variety.