Every year, we stuff at least 40 pepper plants into a hoop house, including bell peppers, Gypsy peppers, Poblanos, and several types of chilies. We go big because peppers can go in and on almost anything: salsas, salads, dips, sauces, breakfast eggs, lunch sandwiches, dinner pastas—the list is endless.
The challenge is in waiting for the peppers to ripen to bright yellows, oranges, reds, and purples and then capturing their peak flavor. My favorite variations use the grill to add a little char for fresh eating, such as for Corn, Bean, and Pepper Salsa and Shish Kebabs with Garlic–Soy Marinade, or a lot of smokiness before long-term storage, such as for Smoked Chilies and Home-Smoked Chili Paste. My latest trick falls somewhere in the middle: roasting peppers on the grill and then freezing them in a dice to throw in winter dishes or as a puree to use as a spread or sauce.
Grilled Bell Peppers
Prepare your grill, bringing it up to a high temperature. Deseed the peppers, cutting them into halves or thirds if large. Place the cut sides down on the hot grill and cover, venting as needed to stabilize the heat. Roast for about 3 minutes, until the edges are lightly charred. Flip each piece over, grilling the opposite side for another 2–3 minutes, until the peppers show grill marks but are still fairly firm.
Place the peppers in a bowl or pot and cover it; let them cool just enough that you can handle them. Peel away as much skin as possible, without ripping the pepper flesh, before using or pureeing (see below). To freeze unseasoned, lay the strips on a rimmed tray and place them in the freezer for about 2 hours, until firm. Dice the peppers, and return them to the trays until frozen through. Quickly transfer the frozen peppers into a labeled zip-close freezer bag and immediately return the bag to the freezer. Makes about 3 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- Grilling peppers and other vegetables is an easy way to keep the house cool midsummer. If you don’t have a grill, you can roast them over a gas burner or under a broiler before peeling and freezing.
- Roasted red peppers tend to be soft and sweetly caramelized, which is great if you’re eating them fresh but turns into mush when pieces are frozen or canned. The times given here are ideal for preserving diced peppers; if you’re eating them fresh or pureeing them before freezing, you can leave them on the grill for about 15 minutes, turning often, until the skins blacken and easily slip free.
- Enclosing the peppers when they come off the grill steams them slightly, making them easier to peel. For lightly grilled peppers, remove as much bitter skin as you can, but don’t worry if some still clings to the flesh.
Twice as Tasty
You could spend a small fortune buying jars of oily, roasted red peppers to layer on pizzas or smooth into a spread. Replicating those jars at home is a challenge. The preferred method for canning these low-acid vegetables—by the likes of Eugenia Bone, Liana Krissoff, and the National Center for Home Food Preservation—essentially pickles the peppers, a flavor that may not appeal to everyone.
Almost by accident, I discovered that pureeing and freezing the peppers gave me all the roasted flavor without the extra acid. Once frozen, the puree can be used anywhere you might add a marinated, commercially processed jar. It makes a delicious sauce for Thin-Crust Pizza. Add some ground almonds and you have a Romesco Sauce for seafood, pasta, or vegetables. Or simply serve the puree in a bowl with crackers or Stuffed and Grilled Breadsticks.
Red Bell Pepper Puree
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
up to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Home-Smoked Chili Paste or smoked paprika
Add the peppers to a food processor, along with any liquid they’ve released after grilling, and process briefly. Add the herbs, sugar, salt, and black pepper and process until the sauce is smooth but thick. Thin to your desired thickness by stirring in 2–4 tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, by hand. Stir in the chili paste or paprika, adjusting the flavorings as needed to taste. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving or freezing.
To freeze, spoon the puree into the cups of two ice cube trays; pour a thin film of olive oil over each cube. Set the tray in the freezer for several hours or overnight, until the contents are completely frozen. Pop the cubes loose, flexing the tray to free them from the cups. Quickly transfer the individual cubes to a labeled zip-close freezer bag and then return it immediately to the freezer. Makes about 3-1/2 cups, or 28 1-ounce cubes.
Tips & Tricks
- You can make this puree with fresh bell peppers, but grilling brings out their sweetness and lets you remove their bitter skins. You can also make it with chilies or a mix of hot and sweet peppers.
- If you aren’t yet growing your own herbs, substitute dried ones, using a third of the amount in the recipe.
- As with pestos, I stir in the olive oil by hand. You’ve put some effort into peeling your peppers, so you don’t want to release bitter polyphenols by breaking up the oil’s fat molecules with the food processor.
- A film of oil over the cubes helps to seal in the flavor and color as the cubes freeze. It also makes it easy to throw frozen cubes into a hot sauté pan without burning the puree; just add them with the oil side down until it begins to coat the pan.
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Tried & True
These tools and supplies may help you make the recipes in this post:
- We do all of our grilling and smoking on an old charcoal kettle grill. It’s a well-used version of this shiny new one.
- If you do want to can your roasted peppers, or embark on other canning adventures, I highly recommend Eugenia Bone’s Well-Preserved and Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. Both offer variations on home-processed roasted bell peppers, among many other delicious recipes.
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