Peppers make the garden brighter. The glistening greens of the leaves and the rainbow of colors of the ripening peppers – red, yellow, orange, green, brown or purple – all mark the rows where peppers are growing. The attractive plants make everything around them look better, healthier, and tastier.
Besides their appearance, there’s another reward from peppers. Sweet bell peppers go well with just about anything and are wonderful eaten right out of the garden, while the hotter varieties spice up many recipes. Some pepper varieties add color as well as flavor: pimiento strips in stuffed olives or stuffed eggs with a dusting of paprika on top, for example. (Paprika is made from dried peppers.) Stuffed peppers, pickled peppers, fried peppers, all types of peppers fit in everywhere.
Prehistoric remains in Peru show that peppers existed then and they were cultivated in Central and South America in very early times. Columbus brought them to Europe in 1493 and they were quickly adopted and cultivated. In fact, it was the Europeans that gave peppers their name. The only pepper they had known until that time was the black and white spice we still sprinkle out of our pepper shakers. When Columbus brought dried peppers back from the West Indies, Europeans said the fruit was “hotter than the pepper of the Caucasus,” the familiar table spice. The name “pepper” stuck and we’ve been using it ever since.
In spite of sharing the same name, our table pepper and the sweet and hot peppers we grow in the garden are not related.
The Scoville Heat Index, invented by Wilbur Scoville, ranks peppers in order from mildest to hottest. It starts with zero being the mildest and goes over 1,000,000 to indicate the hottest peppers. Use a pair of non-latex gloves to protect your hands when handling peppers. Some individuals are more sensitive to the irritants in peppers than others. Though there are dozens of different kinds of peppers, here’s information on some of the more widely used types.
Bell Peppers can be red, yellow, green, orange or purple/black. . They are very common sweet peppers. Since this type of pepper has no heat, its Scoville Heat Index is zero. You can cook bell peppers in a variety of different ways, however don’t expect this type of pepper to add spice to your food.
Cubanelles are also called the Italian Frying Pepper because they taste great sauteed with a little olive oil. The Cubanelle is considered a sweet pepper, although its heat can range from mild to moderate. Cubanelles are usually picked before they ripen while they are a yellowish-green color, but when ripe, they turn bright red. They are usually about 4-6 inches long, 2 inches wide, and banana-shaped, tapering near the bottom. The skin should be glossy and the pepper should be smooth and firm.
SWEET BANANA PEPPER
Banana-shaped peppers change from pale to deep yellow or orange as they mature. These are easily confused with hotter yellow wax peppers, so taste before using. Sweet Banana peppers may be fried or sauteed, used raw on relish platters, in salads, in sandwiches or stuffed.
ITALIAN SWEET PEPPERS
Italian sweet peppers look much like the Anaheim chili pepper used in Southwestern cooking but with the mild taste of sweet bell peppers.The pepper is 6 to 8 inches long, conical and bright green with a mild flavor and fleshy texture. In Italian recipes the peppers are sauteed in olive oil as a side dish for meats. Italian sweet peppers can also top pizza or be included in pasta and risotto. Italian sweet peppers are sometimes added to salads and antipasto platters.
(Not to be confused with the green Tuscan Peppers called Pepperoncini.) One of the most beautiful colors of summer in southern Italy is the deep red of chili peppers, strung together and hung out to dry from windows, balconies, clotheslines or nailed to trees in the countryside—especially in Calabria. This region, at the tip of the boot of Italy, is the main producer and consumer of chili pepper, or peperoncino, as it is called in Italian. In the Calabrian markets, you will often see elderly women, clothed completely in black, sitting beside their colorful heaps of produce, patiently sewing strings of chili with a needle and thread.
The chili pepper plant belongs to the Capsicum genus,which is part of the same family as tomatoes. In Italy, Capiscuum annuumi, which is known as peperoncino di Cayenna, is the most common hot pepper grown. On the Scoville scale, peperoncino di Cayenna ranges in the middle. In southern Italy, these little red peppers are often called diavoletti (little devils). Typically, hot countries develop hot, spicy cuisines as a natural means of cooling down the body through perspiration.
Chili peppers were grown as a food crop as early as 4000 BC in Central America; but it wasn’t until the arrival of the Spanish in the mid-16th. century that the plant was introduced to the rest of the world. Very quickly, trade routes began carrying chili peppers to Europe, Africa, India, the Middle East and Asia. Today, this spice seems to be growing in popularity around the globe. In northern Italy, where chili pepper was virtually unknown just a couple of generations ago, peperoncino is now more and more appreciated and incorporated into Italian cuisine. Peperoncino adds spice and flavor not only to the simple foods of southern Italy, but for some people, this hot spice becomes almost addictive. Spicy food lovers add it to virtually everything – fish, vegetable pasta sauces, soups and stews, as well as egg dishes. As a general rule of thumb, peperoncino is not recommended for delicate and creamy preparations, but is more suitable for robust sauces and recipes. In southern Italy, ground chili peppers are sometimes added to salami and cheese. Also, hot peppers are preserved in oil to produce a flavorful, spicy oil.
Also known as pimento peppers, cherry peppers are heart-shaped and are about four inches long and three inches wide. These peppers are actually very mild, scoring about 500 on the Scoville Heat Index. Cherry peppers are perhaps best known to be the red filling that can typically be found inside green olives.
Another mild type of pepper is the Anaheim pepper. This pepper is usually dark red in color and has a long, skinny body. While the Anaheim pepper usually has a Scoville Heat Index around 1,000, some varieties can have a rating as high as 5,000. Relative to the rest of this list, this pepper is not very hot.
The jalapeno is one of the most common types of peppers in the United States. Many people like this type of pepper because of its spicy, yet not overwhelming taste. Jalapeno are usually either red or green and are about two to three inches long. Their Scoville Heat Index is typically around 5,000, however jalapenos can range anywhere from 2,000 to 8,000. These peppers, when used sparingly, add just the right amount of spicy flavor to most Mexican dishes. Many people also deep fry cheese stuffed jalapenos for a spicy appetizer.
Mild, heart-shaped pepper that has thick walls, which make them great for stuffing. Because it is a rather mild pepper, it can be used in quantity to add a deep rich flavor to any chili dish.
The Serrano pepper is similar to the jalapeno in its look, but this pepper is much hotter. On the Scoville Heat Index, the Serrano Pepper can be between 10,000 and 25,000. This pepper is usually small (around two inches) and green in color. As a general rule of thumb, the smaller the Serrano pepper, the hotter it will taste.
The Cayenne pepper is another hot pepper (between 25,000 and 50,000 on the Scoville Heat Index) that is popular with those looking to add heat to food. Red in color, the Cayenne pepper is generally dried and used in powder form. Additionally, this pepper has been used in natural medicines for hundreds of years, due to its reported healing attributes.
Grown in Thailand and neighboring countries, the Thai pepper is a type of pepper that can be classified as “very hot”. With a Scoville Heat Index of between 50,000 and 100,000, these peppers are sure to leave your taste buds wanting relief. The Thai pepper is one of the smallest peppers, measuring in at less than an inch. It’s used in many spicy Thai dishes at restaurants in the US.
While Rocoto peppers look somewhat like bell peppers, it can be dangerous to get the two mixed up. While bell peppers aren’t hot at all, the Rocoto pepper is extremely hot. Between 100,000 and 250,000 on the Scoville Heat Index, this pepper is about the size of a bell pepper but is rounder and is typically only red or green. Some people use this pepper to make very spicy sauces.
HABANERO CHILI PEPPER
Of hot peppers that are commonly used, the Habanero chili is recognized as the hottest. This pepper can range in color from green to yellow and is usually only around 1 ½ inches or 3 centimeters in length. However, do not let the small size fool you – the Habanero chili can pack a punch! The Scoville Heat Index for the Habanero chili can range from 150,000 to 350,000.
Pepperoncini (Tuscan Peppers) are another kind of chili pepper that is green when young and red when fully mature. Unlike the Italian sweet peppers, pepperoncini have a wrinkly skin and are crunchy, slightly bitter and somewhat spicy. They grow from 2 inches to 4 inches long and are a popular Italian appetizer. They are also often served pickled, which gives them a light salty taste. Pepperoncini were originally grown in Tuscany, so they are also called Tuscan Peppers.
Pickled Pepperoncini Without Canning
Pepperoncini are not as spicy as many other peppers, so they are a good choice for those who do not enjoy extremely spicy food. You can stuff them, add them to soups and sandwiches, incorporate them into soups and stews or eat them as a pickle. Pepperoncini are most often pickled rather than used plain. Pickling your own pepperoncini is a relatively simple process and you enjoy these peppers for months to come.
- 1 lb. fresh pepperoncini peppers
- 2-1/2 cups water
- 3 cups vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons pickling salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 4 garlic cloves
Wash the peppers with cold water and allow them to dry.
Put water, vinegar, sugar and salt into a soup pot. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and stir until the sugar and salt have completely dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and add bay leaves, whole coriander seeds and black peppercorns. Chop the garlic into small chunks and add it to the pot. Allow this to simmer for five minutes.
Leave peppers whole and pierce their sides three to four times. Place the peppers into storage jars and leave about 1 inch of head space.
Pour the hot liquid into the jars containing the peppers, screw on their lids and allow the jars to cool before placing them in the refrigerator. Let the peppers marinade for at least a week before using. The pickle flavor will be stronger the longer they sit.
Tips: The pickles will keep for several months in the refrigerator. Do not use if pressure develops in the jars or if the liquid becomes really cloudy and begins to smell. This can be a sign of contamination and the pickles are not safe to eat.
Stuffed Hot Peppers
- 15 small hot peppers
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 5 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/4 cups Italian bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon capers, chopped
- 3 anchovies, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons pine nuts
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more if needed)
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Slice the peppers in half lengthwise, including the stem. Scrape out the seeds (use a grapefruit spoon). Leave a few seeds in if you like your food spicy.
Mix all the other ingredients together making sure the stuffing is well saturated with oil.
Using a small spoon, stuff the peppers with the bread crumb mixture. Pat down lightly. Place the peppers in a greased baking pan and cover with tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and check peppers for tenderness. Bake 8-10 more minutes if needed.
Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Italian Roasted Sweet Peppers
- 16 large sweet Italian peppers
- 4 large cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Fresh Basil
Wash the peppers and allow to completely dry.
Cut off the stem ends and pull out the seeds and white membranes.
Turn the peppers upside down and tap on the cutting board to shake out any loose seeds.
Put the oil and minced garlic into a large glass baking pan and mix the two.
Add the peppers and toss until each pepper is totally coated with garlic oil.
Roast at 350 degrees F. for about 50 minutes. When the peppers begin to brown and start to collapse, they are done. Sprinkle with salt and fresh basil.
They can also be refrigerated for a day or two until needed for another recipe. They are excellent as a side for pork chops or roasted chicken breasts.
Italian Sausage and Peppers
- 3 lbs. sweet Italian pork or turkey sausage with fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1-inch wedges
- 6 pickled cherry (hot) peppers, stemmed and seeded, but left whole
- 2 medium yellow bell peppers , cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips
- 2 medium red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips
Poke the sausages all over with a fork and cut into 5-6 inch pieces. Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a large heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add half the sausages and half the garlic and cook, turning occasionally, until the sausages are well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer the browned sausages and garlic to a 13 x 9-inch baking dish, leaving the fat behind. Pour the fat off and add the remaining oil. Cook the remaining sausages and garlic until browned. Transfer to the baking dish.
While the sausages are browning preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scatter the onions, peppers and cherry peppers over the sausages in the baking dish, toss all the ingredients together well and place in the oven.
Bake uncovered, tossing occasionally, until the vegetables are tender but still firm and no trace of pink remains in the sausages, about 45 minutes. Serve hot with crusty Italian bread.
Italian Broccoli with Peppers
- 6 cups water
- 4 cups fresh broccoli florets
- 1 medium sweet red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 medium sweet yellow bell pepper, julienned
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add broccoli; cover and boil for 3 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels..
In a large nonstick skillet, saute peppers in oil for 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add the broccoli, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper; cook 2 minutes longer. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.
Italian Pepper & Egg Sandwich
- 4 green or red bell peppers, (or Cubanelle or Italian sweet), washed, seeded and sliced.
- 1 small onion, sliced thin
- 5 large eggs, scrambled in bowl with 1 tablespoon water
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese
- 1 loaf of Italian bread, sliced or 4 ciabatta rolls
- Crushed red pepper (optional)
- Mild or hot Giardiniera (optional)
See post on how to make Giardiniera:
In large skillet add olive oil and garlic and saute on low until garlic is golden, (do not burn). Add peppers and onion, season with salt and pepper, stir to coat vegetables with oil. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring frequently, until peppers are soft. Raise heat to med-high and add eggs, stirring well to mix the eggs into the peppers. Cook eggs thoroughly, but be careful not to burn them. Sprinkle with cheese and red pepper serve on an Italian roll or Italian bread with Giardiniera.
- Brown Rice-Stuffed Peppers (mpcasavant.wordpress.com)
- Italian Chicken with Sweet Peppers and Israeli Couscous (acougarinthekitchen.com)
- Oven Roasted Red Bell Pepper (simplybittenkitchen.net)
- Grow So Easy Organic: How To Grow The Sweetest Peppers (growsoeasyorganic.com)