Califonia Bountiful

Peppers: They're a thrill on the grill

July/Aug. 2008 California Country magazine

Peppers are one of the late summer risers, requiring long periods of heat and sun to reach juicy fruition.

Peppers are one of the late summer risers, requiring long periods of heat and sun to reach juicy fruition. But they are always worth the wait. As for bell peppers California leads the nation in production, providing a colorful supply throughout the year.

Beyond your basic bells—which now run the rainbow of hues from green to orange, red, yellow and even white and purple—try some more unusual heirlooms if you can get your hands on them. For example, gypsy peppers are an early maturing, thin-walled variety with a crisp texture and delicate taste. Try stuffing these with a grated mild cheese like Monterey Jack, then grilling until soft and slightly charred outside. They’re excellent as a side with grilled pork burgers, sausage or tenderloin. Italian frying peppers are incredible, with or without sausage. Other, later heirlooms include the piquant pimenton de pardon, the long, thick-walled corno di toro, the spicy chartreuse pepperoncini (perfect pickled) and any number of pimiento heirlooms.

Grilling helps enhance the natural sugars and flavor of just about any vegetable, and peppers are no exception.

You can roast them whole over medium-high flame, turning with tongs frequently until softened and blackened. Place on a plate, put in a paper grocery bag, seal and let sit for 10 minutes or so. The peppers will steam some, and when removed from the bag, the charred skin will come off fairly easily. Remove the stem and seeds. Serve the peppers straight up as a side with any number of grilled main attractions—chicken or skewers of shrimp or scallops. They’re also a tasty addition to a burger.

Beyond that, roast extra. The fire is going anyway. Place the skinned, seeded, roasted peppers in a jar and cover with olive oil. They will keep for a week refrigerated, and they’re like money in the bank. They’re delectable in sandwiches or tossed into a hot or cold pasta along with other grilled veggies such as eggplant and summer squash and dressed with pesto. You can also make a terrific sauce, blending them with olive oil, garlic, pitted black olives and grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese. Spaghetti will never be the same!

Ripe for the picking

It’s always harvest time in California! Here are a few more seasonal favorites, all great on the grill:

Corn: Soak ears in water for 15 minutes, then husk enough to remove silk. Slather with softened butter combined with chopped chives, thyme or dill, and some salt and pepper. Pull husks back up and grill over indirect heat for five to seven minutes, turning occasionally.

Zucchini: Slice lengthwise in 1/4-inch thickness, marinate in olive oil, lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper and either mint, marjoram or oregano, and grill over medium-low heat for a few minutes on each side. Serve hot or chilled.

Garlic: Cut off the top 1/2 inch of whole heads, drizzle with olive oil and bake wrapped in foil at 300 degrees for about 40 minutes or until cloves are soft when pierced with a fork. Cool a bit, then squeeze out the velvety interior to smear on good- quality grilled bread. Tomatoes optional.

Cilantro: Grilled seafood, chicken or pork pair beautifully with a healthful and toothsome salsa. To washed, dried and chopped cilantro, add any combo of finely diced mango, cucumber, red pepper, avocado and onion. Season with fresh chiles, salt and pepper to taste, and toss with fresh lime juice.

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