Farmers market sweet peppers are tastier than store-bought

By Evan Kleiman

Summer peppers at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market are often tastier than anything you’ll find in the grocery store, says Evan Kleiman. Photo by Gillian Ferguson/KCRW

Why do people chop up red bell peppers and throw them in everything? Is it just for the color pop? Because the minute you chop them, they start to degrade both in texture and flavor. Unless you’re eating the dish that’s studded with chopped peppers immediately, it will not be served by those peppers for very long. As the liquid seeps out of the pepper and the skin starts to soften, the pepper flavor “turns.”  

But treat the vegetable as it's meant to be treated, as a seasonal veggie instead of an afterthought, and it’s a revelation. Like the tomato, sweet peppers are different at the end of summer when they are at their best. We’ve all become so accustomed to those bell pepper three-packs in the stores. You’ve seen them – a large sleeve housing one yellow, one orange, and one red bell pepper. 

But just like tomatoes, sweet peppers are represented at farmers markets with great variety. From big blocky thick walled peppers that ripen from red to a chocolate brown, to thin-walled Jimmy Nardello sweet frying peppers with their characteristic pointy shape that can be green or red. Whether they’re red, yellow, or orange, or whatever shape, the peppers are sweeter and have a greater variety of overall flavor and texture than anything you find in a grocery store. And the varieties that are classified as bell but aren’t terribly sweet can be green, violet, or even black, and have a juicy crunch with a bracing vegetal taste.

Charred and peeled sweet peppers are delicious with fresh garlic and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

My favorite recipe that allows summer peppers to shine is cookbook author Patricia Well’s “Maggie’s Roasted Red Peppers.” It’s a condiment of sweet and spicy slow braised peppers in olive oil. The sweet and spicy chiles are seeded and deribbed, then cut into slices, then layered with garlic and olive oil, and baked covered until soft. Then you uncover them and continue roasting until they get some color but are very soft. You can serve them warm as a side dish, or keep them in the refrigerator to use as a condiment, or to reinforce a range of dishes.

My two favorite Italian ways to cook peppers are to either simply slice and fry them very slowly so they soften and caramelize or char, and skin them, and mix the peeled roasted peppers with sliced garlic, a little chopped parsley, lemon juice, and salt.