Alex Eats: Peppers of All Kinds

by in Food Network Chef, How-to, September 20th, 2011

pepper variety
alex guarnaschelliEvery week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex’s Day Off, shares with readers what she’s eating — whether it’s from the farmers’ market or fresh off the boat, she’ll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.

Sometimes I like to enjoy the full blast of a chile pepper and sometimes I want a mellower version. Hot peppers can be tamed by removing the seeds and slicing the ribs off the interior flesh. Try not to learn this lesson the hard way if you can help it: Wear gloves to protect your hands when cleaning chiles of their ribs and seeds. If you’ve ever touched the chile and then touched your eyes, you know what I’m talking about.

On one end of the heat spectrum, habaneros and scotch bonnet peppers are two of the hottest varieties. They are small and appear in various hues of green, yellow or red. Because they are so spicy, I use them sparingly in their raw form. I also love to slice and cover them with olive oil — it’s like a bottle of spice that naps in my fridge until I need it. Cooking them can also offer that tamed flavor. Sometimes I marvel at how floral spicy peppers can be underneath all that heat. A few paper-thin slices can brighten (and spice up) a light butter sauce for grilled fish or a hot marinade for other vegetables, such as eggplant, or meat.

I love jalapenos and serrano peppers. They are only slightly less spicy and are delicious chopped and added raw (or lightly cooked) to salsa or salad dressings. Jalapenos pair wonderfully with the richness of an avocado or the sweetness of tomatoes or corn. A dried and smoked jalapeno, or chipotle, is the crown prince of chiles in smoky form. I find them smoky and sweet rather than spicy, so I blend chipotles with a creamy mayonnaise or drop them into a slow braise of pork shoulder. Blister a few tomatoes in a hot pan and blend with a little olive oil and chipotle puree — dynamite.

Bell and wax peppers are my favorites for texture. They are crisp and are great sliced on sandwiches. Try braising some onion slices until tender, add a sprinkle of your favorite vinegar and then stir in some sliced wax peppers at the last minute for a great crunch. More simply, remove the seeds and ribs from a few red bell peppers and blend them until smooth with some olive oil, a touch of honey, salt and pepper for a delicious salad dressing. Stir in some pine nuts or toasted cubes of bread. It’s a great condiment for roasted vegetables or by itself on grilled bread.

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