Pick a peck of peppers

Cooking with Cathie

Cathie CampbellMarch 20, 2013 

I guess you could say I live an odd life, when twice in one week the random subject of red bell peppers comes up. Specifically the question, "Are red (or yellow or orange) bell peppers a different variety than green ones?"

Years ago, I worked for a company in Gilroy that developed both flower and vegetable varieties. Bell peppers happened to be one of them. They not only did the research, plant breeding and field trials, but they also sold the seeds. The bell peppers, when mature, always were red, which meant they were ripe. They went through various stages of color along the way, starting out green, then yellow, then orange, then red. If left on the plant longer than that, they normally would change once again, to a purple-brown color. The red ones were priced higher in stores because it costs more for farmers to prolong harvest.

The more I try to find out about this or that pepper the more confused I get, as many of the yellow, orange, red and purple/brown pepper seeds or plants are marketed in such ways as to suggest each color is due to a different type of pepper. There are several different varieties of bell peppers, with certain characteristics (like shape, thickness, short or long growing season and disease resistance), but I think if you are mainly concerned about which stage of ripeness you prefer, I am betting they all go through the same stages. If you are a bell pepper farmer or expert, feel free to contribute your knowledge.

Red bell pepper and shrimp pasta

I actually prefer this without the Alfredo sauce. For some weird reason, I went from loving Alfredo sauce to not liking it at all. Maybe it was just a change of eating habits and preferences due to being in Weight Watchers (but I still crave butter). But most everybody else I know is crazy for Alfredo-anything, so I am including this recipe. Please do thoroughly cook the shrimp -- I have a pet peeve of squishy, undercooked shrimp!

  • 12 ounces penne pasta
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 pound portobello mushrooms, diced
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 jar (15-ounce) Alfredo sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter together with the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in onion, and cook until softened and translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic, red pepper and mushrooms; cook over medium-high heat until soft, about 2 minutes more.
  3. Stir in the shrimp, and cook until firm and pink, then pour in Alfredo sauce, Romano cheese and cream; bring to a simmer stirring constantly until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Stir drained pasta into the sauce, and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley. Makes 6 servings.

Caramelized red bell peppers and onions

I just had my own version of this, along with sliced, grilled top sirloin steak (on the rare side), for pepper steak sandwiches! Place on a toasted garlic-butter roll and you're all set! (My version is just olive oil, peppers, sliced onions, crushed garlic and salt. Start with seeded, quartered peppers, then the onions, and add garlic last. Cook in the oil until veggies are soft and browned and of course, caramelized.)

  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 2 red onions, cut into strips (or white, sweet onions)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1/4 cup red wine (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch dried basil
  1. In a hot saucepan over medium heat, combine red bell peppers, onions, oil and butter; saute for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the onions and peppers soften.
  2. If desired, stir red wine into the vegetables and cook until the wine evaporates; approximately 30 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and basil. Makes 4 servings.

Roasted marinated bell peppers

I grew up on these and still love them. I liked them better than candy for a treat. We just used a broiler instead of a grill to roast the peppers.

  • 5 red bell peppers
  • 2 small garlic cloves, very thinly sliced (Being from Gilroy, it's no surprise I would use more)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano (My family finds that a fresh sage leaf or two adds a nice flavor)
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Prepare grill for cooking. If using a charcoal grill, open vents on bottom of grill, then light charcoal. Charcoal fire is hot when you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for 1 to 2 seconds. If using a gas grill, preheat burners on high, covered, 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderately high.
  2. Lay bell peppers on their sides on lightly oiled grill rack and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, until skins are blackened, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a bowl, then cover and let steam 10 minutes. Peel and seed peppers (reserving juices), then cut into 1/4 -inch-thick strips.
  4. Stir together peppers (with their juices), garlic, oil, vinegar, oregano, sea salt and pepper and marinate 30 minutes at room temperature.Makes 10 servings, as an appetizer.

Red bell pepper hummus

Good with some crispy, seasoned pita chips or raw veggies.

  • 1 can (16-ounces) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1 fresh lime, juiced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or granules
  1. In a food processor or blender, mix the garbanzo beans, olive oil, red bell pepper, tahini, lime juice, water, salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Blend until smooth.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Makes about 8 servings.

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