Garden Fresh: Red Bell Peppers
The only plants left in my warm-weather garden are peppers: Anaheim chiles and bell peppers. The Anaheims are fiercely hot, an effect of the drought, and the green bells are just the opposite. In fact, green peppers are mildly bitter and boring, good mostly for salads, color, and grilled for fajitas.
Patience is the key at this point, as some of the green bell peppers have turned to red. The reds become tangy and slightly sweet, for one of the best uses of this produce: roasted red peppers.
The pepper crop began the day after Valentine's Day, which is the best time to plant almost everything in a Spring garden. The 99¢ transplants of Better Belle Improved grew steadily, with regular watering. Some gardeners sprinkle Epsom salts around plants to give them extra magnesium, but I found occasional fertilizing to be adequate.
After two months, tiny white flowers appeared, withered, and little green nubs soon bulged into green peppers. I didn't want them, and unlike with my tomatoes, neither did the squirrels, so it was easy to let them go. It takes time for the peppers to ripen to red, at which point they're more fragile, the reason red bells are so expensive in stores.
Then came the payoff. I cut the top off of a pepper, quartered it lengthwise, removed the seeds, and sliced out the bitter white veins. I put pieces under a broiler for at least five minutes, until the skins turn black and blistery. Then I turned them over, skin side down, for two more minutes of roasting.
I used to remove them and put them in plastic bags to steam the skins off, but I'm not sure heated plastic is good for me, so I put them in a bowl, and covered it for steam, for 10 minutes.
Afterward, they were just cool enough to peel off the blackened skin, but warm enough to melt slices of Monterrey jack I put on top of the reds, after salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Just about any white semi-soft cheese will do, such as Havarti, Manchego, or jack with jalapeños, to make them hot, like Houston.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.