When Peter Piper picked that peck of pickled peppers, he may have had a mouth full of words, but what I have is more than a handful of ideas how to use them.
As the temperatures warm, the peppers abound. It is a great time to stock up on them whether you are snacking, freezing, pickling, relishing or just incorporating them into meals. Pop them into omelets or scrambled eggs at breakfast, in salads for lunch and perhaps a stir-fry for dinner.
Peppers, like onions, enhance the flavor of dozens of dishes. I like to save a big portion of the summer abundance by freezing them. Having a cadre of chopped peppers in the freezer saves time and money. It takes only a little time to chop and spread them out on a baking sheet to freeze. Once they are frozen, simply pop them into a freezer bag so you have a supply ready to use.
The individually frozen peppers are ready in whatever quantity you need. They thaw quickly in a saute, sauce, soup or stew, months after the pepper season has ended. We love stuffed peppers at our house, and I save some of the uniformly sized peppers to halve and freeze. Again, I spread them out to freeze before putting them all into a large freezer bag. I take them out in whatever quantity needed.
The peppers are thawed, softened and ready to stuff by the time you’ve browned the ground meat and vegetables for the filling. I add onions, additional chopped peppers, squash, celery, mushrooms, brown rice or cooked faro and tomato sauce to the meat mixture, with a bit of cumin and garlic.
Once the stuffing is in the peppers, top it with a bit of cheese — cheddar, mozzarella or a combination of what you have on hand. Vary the seasoning and the cheese, and you have a stuffed pepper with a complete personality change. Sometimes I do an Italian version using oregano, thyme, garlic, zucchini, peppers and lots of mushrooms in the stuffing before topping it with mozzarella.
Of course, the Italian stuffed pepper reminds me of other ways to use up some of that seasonal pepper bounty. How about the quickest pizza you will ever make at home, using a flour tortilla for the crust? All you have to do is coat the tortilla with olive oil, slather a little tomato sauce or some thinly sliced tomatoes over the top, and then top it off with sliced peppers, chopped onion, sliced zucchini and sliced mushrooms. Follow with the cheese before popping it into an oven preheated to 425 degrees. Ten to 12 minutes later you’ve got a pepper-enhanced pizza bubbling to perfection.
Peppers can be frozen before grilling or adding to kabobs. In this case, you still will want to freeze them separately before transferring to a plastic storage bag. For grilling and kabobs, you will want some large sections cut in squares or slices large enough to not fall through the grates or spear. Some peppers are small enough to simply cut in half for this purpose.
The uses for fresh garden peppers are limited only by your imagination for how to apply the flavors of this beautiful vegetable to your menu. So pick some peppers of your own or from your closest farmers market and make the most of this season.