Why not a purple pepper? Or golden . . . as well as green, red
A vibrant spectrum of sweet peppers is appearing on produce
counters. This fall, bell peppers are wearing green, red, golden
yellow, even purple. Fresh pimientos are showing off rich crimson
coats. Despite their diverse colors–and flavors– they all belong
botanically to the peppers, Capsicum, which also include hot chilies.
Different-colored peppers have existed for centuries, and the
current varieties have evolved from those older peppers. Yellow and red
peppers have long been popular abroad but in this country have been
mostly limited to home gardens. Here, the green bell has dominated the
market. But the current interest in unusual vegetables has brought on
Now’s the best time to buy sweet peppers in the West: with
local crops at their peak, prices are at their lowest. The harvest
continues until frost, around November. Then prices vary greatly,
depending on source and supply. Peppers of one color or another are
steadily available year-round, coming from Mexico, Holland, and
warm-climate farming regions of the United States.
Green and red bells: immature to ripe
Time creates the difference between a green and a red bell. The
blocky-shaped green pepper ripens to red. When green and immature, it
tastes grassy. When ripe and red, it tastes sweet. Because red bells
take longer to reach the harvest stage and spoil faster than the greens,
they can be less abundant and higher-priced.
Both green and red forms are deliciously crisp when raw. When
cooked, the bright green dulls to olive; red bells maintain their
Golden bells: sweet and mellow
These also start green, developing their yellow color when mature.
Grown for years in Europe and recently imported to the United States,
golden bells are now being grown commercially in California. Most of
those grown here will have the classic bell shape. (Other mild yellow
European peppers are longer and pointed; some others are nearly
identical in color to the bells and can be quite hot.)
Very sweet and mellow, the yellow bells hold their color when
Purple bells: skin-deep beauty
Primarily a novelty, purple bell peppers have dark-colored skins
but green interiors. Purple when immature, they turn green as they
ripen, eventually becoming red. Early harvesting accounts for their
somewhat grassy flavor, more pronounced than that of green bells and the
least sweet of all the bells.
Eat them raw to appreciate their unique color. When cooked, their
purple color fades to khaki.
This hybrid from Holland is relatively new and generally expensive;
domestic commercial plantings are very limited. Most of these purple
beauties are imported from late winter to early fall.
Pimientos: meaty ref flesh
Heart- or cone-shaped pimientos (or pimentos) are similar to red
bells in flavor and slightly sweeter. What distinguishes them is their
thick fleshy walls, which make them so popular for preserving.
Previously grown only for the canning industry, pimientoes are now
Use them as you would red bells. They’re especially good
roasted to remove their skin; the thicker skin is more noticeable than
on bells when cooked.
All of these peppers are good raw, and red and yellow bells and
pimientos are especially good cooked. These warm-colored peppers are
high in vitamins A and C. Heat brings out their mellow sweet flavor; see
pages 224 and 225 for a variety of ways to cook and serve them.
One way to preserve bell peppers and pimientos is to roast and
freeze them. Roasting concentrates the sweetness and helps separate the
skin from the flesh. Freeze in small portions to use later (see
additional recipes on page 224).
Place whole red, golden, or green bell peppers, or fresh pimientos,
slightly apart on a shallow, rimmed baking pan. Bake, uncovered, in a
400| oven until browned and skin separates from flesh, 25 to 30 minutes.
Place in a plastic or heavy paper bag. Close tightly and let sweat 30
minutes. Pull off skins. Cut peppers into halves; discard seeds and
stems. Use peppers (see suggestions on page 224), or chill airtight for
up to 3 days or freeze in 1-cup portions for longer storage. One pound
of fresh peppers (about 4 medium-size) yields about 1 cup roasted
Purple Bells with Peppercorn Dip
In a blender, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 clove garlic, 1/4 cup
sliced green onion, and 1 tablespoon each green peppercorns (dry or
drained canned) and white wine vinegar; whirl sauce until smooth. (If
made ahead, cover and chill as long as overnight.)
Cut out stem end of 2 medium-size (about 2 1/2-in.-tall) purple or
any other color bell peppers. Remove seeds; reserve caps. Trim bottom
slightly, if needed, so pepper can stand. Fill peppers with sauce;
replace cap if desired. Remove seeds from 3 or 4 medium-size purple or
any other color bell peppers and cut into 1/4-inch strips. Serve strips
alongside pepper to dip into dressing. Makes 10 appetizer servings.
Photo: Rainbow of sweet peppers includes (from top to bottom) green
and red bells, red pimiento, and golden and purple bells. Color
permeates flesh in all except purple bells
Photo: For a salad, arrange anchovies atop marinated roasted
pimientos. Marinated pimientos or bell peppers, packed in a jar, keep
in the refrigerator for 2 weeks
Photo: Purple bell shell holds peppercorn dip; you dunk raw strips
with purple skin and green flesh into sauce
Photo: Golden bells, stuffed with spicy Italian sausage, sauteed
onions, and creamy Munster cheese, are ready to bake; reserve stems to
top peppers as garnish (recipe, page 224)
Photo: Workers harvest pimientos near King City, California. Picked
only when red, they are sweeter than red bell peppers