Time to pick up some peppers

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Glossy red, yellow and orange peppers, now at their peak, are piling up in our farmers market stalls. Best to bypass the green peppers, which are not a specific variety, but underripe peppers. If left on the vine, they would mature into brilliant colors; picked green, they can be bitter and tough.

When choosing peppers, look for those that are glossy and firm without wrinkles or soft spots. If your kitchen is cool enough, keep unwashed peppers on the counter covered with a kitchen towel; they’ll last about five days. Do not store peppers in plastic bags and be sure to remove them from the plastic trays or coverings. Plastic fosters moisture, making the peppers spoil more quickly. Cold spoils the pepper’s flavor and texture.

Mini-peppers, aka lunchbox peppers, are thin-skinned and nearly seedless, so they are especially easy to work with. You’ll find them at farmers markets in bulk; in grocery stores, they’re often sold in one- and two-pound bags. When raw, these are deliciously crisp; when lightly roasted, they become tender and super-sweet.

The mini-peppers don’t need to be peeled after roasting, unlike the larger bell peppers with thicker skins. Once roasted, they can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for about three days, ready to layer into sandwiches, chop and fold into cornbread, purée with a little olive and herbs into a sauce for pasta, or to swirl into hummus.

Roasted mini-peppers are perfect for stuffing to serve as appetizers; four or five of them make a light, colorful meal. Stuff them with whipped herbed goat cheese, black beans and salsa, chicken or tuna salad, and with cooked whole grains.

This may sound like a lot of fussy work, but it goes really quickly. Simply slice open the peppers, then use a small spoon and your fingers to push in the filling, then pinch them closed. Don’t worry if some of that filling spills onto the plate. The bite-sized morsels are finger-ready, fork optional.

Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.

 

Stuffed Mini-Peppers

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Serve these as an appetizer or light main dish. Any extra stuffing can be stored in a covered container for about 3 days in the refrigerator, ready to toss into a salad or serve as a side dish. These are easily made a couple of hours ahead and kept at room temperature. From Beth Dooley.

• 1 lb. sweet small bell peppers, about 15 to 20

• 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

• Coarse salt

• 1 c. farro or hulled barley

• 1/4 c. diced onion

• 1/4 c. diced fennel, diced

• 3 garlic cloves, crushed

• 2 tbsp. tomato paste

• 2 tsp. ground cumin

• 2 tbsp. lemon juice, plus more for garnish

• 2 tbsp. capers, drained

• 1/4 c. chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

• 1/4 c. chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

• Generous pinch red pepper flakes, to taste

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the peppers with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle lightly with the coarse salt. Roast, shaking the pan after about 10 minutes and continue roasting until the peppers are tender, for a total of 20 to 25 minutes.

Put the grain into a medium pot and add 4 cups water and a generous pinch of salt. Set the pot over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the grain is tender, about 20 minutes for the farro, about 25 to 30 for the barley. Drain any excess water.

Pour the remaining oil into large skillet set over medium-high heat and sauté the onion, fennel and garlic until tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. If the mixture sticks to the bottom of the pan, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Stir in the tomato paste and cumin and cook about 30 seconds.

Place the cooked grain into the skillet along with the lemon juice and capers. Toss in the parsley and cilantro, and season to taste with the red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

Make a slit lengthwise down each pepper to open it up. Using a small spoon and your fingers, stuff the grain mixture into the peppers and then pinch the peppers closed. Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with more lemon juice and garnish with more herbs. Serve at room temperature.

Nutrition information per each of 6 servings:

Calories 210 Fat 8 g

Sodium 160 mg Carbohydrates 33 g

Saturated fat 1 g Added sugars 0 g

Protein 6 g Cholesterol 0 mg

Dietary fiber 6 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 starch, 1 carb, 1 ½ fat.

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