Sunday, August 31, 2008

How to Roast Peppers with Jerry Lewis

roast peppers stage 2

I hate Labor Day. I always have. This is, no doubt, because growing up, Labor Day always meant three things:

1. School starts in two days (ugh)
2. The Jerry Lewis telethon and
3. Roasting obscene amounts of red bell peppers with my dad

Every year, Dad would spend the entire Labor Day weekend roasting, pickling, and canning for the winter months. He didn't need to. We lived in Providence, Rhode Island where virtually every street corner boasts an Italian deli selling all of the foods he made. But like stocking food in his basement, Labor Day canning was a ritual that was ingrained in Dad.

My father grew up in an Italian family with two parents and six siblings. Since this was before Costco, it took some resourcefulness to feed all of those growing bodies on a meager income. So his parents would often buy vast amounts of foods on sale and pickle, roast, stew, can, and stuff anything that could take it.

August was the month of hard labor in Dad's house. I love to hear him tell stories of the "assembly line" he and his siblings made to be efficient -- they had to be. After all, they would cook dozens of bushels of summer tomatoes to be used for Sunday gravy throughout the winter. And they would tackle scores of crates full of late summer eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers that were pickled or roasted then jarred and enjoyed year-round.

roasted red peppers plate

Throughout my entire life, Dad would go to his cousin Nicky's farm to buy produce. Every single Labor Day weekend, he'd arrive home and announce with pride to my mother, "I just got some beaut--ee-ful red bell peppers from Nicky's."

"Oh, yeah? How many did you get?" she'd asked, fearing his reply.

"Not too many this year. About three bushels," he'd say.

"Three bushels? What are we gonna do with three bushels of peppers?" she'd ask reflexively, knowing his reply before he could answer.

"I'll roast them tomorrow while the telethon is on," he'd say.

And I would let out a big, dramatic, sigh. "Ugh. Another Labor Day spent roasting peppers with Jerry Lewis."

After I was married, I decided I would never spend Labor Day weekend watching the telethon or cooking, and for years I didn't. Until one fateful day a few summers ago when I found a farmers' market selling an entire case of red bell peppers for $11. I felt like I had hit the jackpot! As I proudly stumbled along with my big box of peppers, Jeff stood looking on, aghast.

"What are we going to do with a whole case of peppers?" he asked.

"Roast them," I said.

And that's when it hit me. I am my father's daughter. I realized then that Dad didn't roast peppers on Labor Day just to torture me; rather, I think he believed that unlike the fleeting pleasure of going to the movies for a couple of hours, roasted peppers would bring you happiness for months to come.

I did end up roasting peppers that Labor Day Weekend, though I did not turn on the telethon. Then like Dad, I froze bags full of roasted peppers that Jeff and I enjoyed year-round.

Since our local market had red bell peppers on sale for 47 cents each last week, I bought a dozen. On Thursday I went down to the grills and starting roasting. I didn't miss Jerry Lewis, and I didn't miss the back-to-school dread I always experienced, but I did miss Dad.

I know you can buy jarred roasted peppers, but where's the challenge in that?

Here's how to make roasted peppers in four easy steps:

  1. Preheat a grill to high. Place peppers on the grill, rotating several times, until fully blackened (about 20 minutes).
  2. Place grilled peppers inside a paper bag and close the top tightly. Place the bag inside a large bowl (to catch any juices that spill out), for about 10 minutes. The steam will help the skins peel off more easily.
  3. Remove one pepper at a time. Place on a cutting board, and split open. Remove the stem and the seeds.
  4. Using a piece of paper towel, rub the skins off. If you have trouble removing them, then steam them a bit longer; otherwise, they should come off easily.
Note: If you don't have a grill, then you can roast or broil the peppers in the oven. You can even place them directly on the burner of a gas stove.

To freeze roasted peppers, place cooled peppers in a single layer in a Ziploc freezer bag. Defrost by placing in the refrigerator until thawed or by defrosting in the microwave.

Print recipe only here.

roast peppers stage 3
After about 10 minutes of grilling, the peppers will begin to form black blisters. After about 20 minutes, they will become fully blackened, like the middle left pepper above, and should be removed from the grill and placed in a paper bag to steam.

roasted pepper split
After the peppers have steamed in a paper bag for about 10 minutes, place them on a cutting board, split open, and remove the stem and the seeds. You can see how the skins are already beginning to peel off.

roasted pepper peeling
Using a piece of paper towel, rub the skins off.

Here are some easy, delicious ways to enjoy roasted peppers:
  • Add to an antipasto with items such as Italian cheeses and cured meats, olives, marinated mushrooms, and peppadews.
  • Finely chop and stir into tomato sauce for pasta or stir into soups.
  • Dice and add to a fritatta or omelette.
  • Dice and blend into hummus or a favorite dip.
  • Add to crostini, bruschetta, pizza, or sandwiches.
  • Make grilled vegetable stacks with eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and fresh mozzarella.
You might also like:

Roasted Pepper, Olive, and Brie Bruschetta

Clotilde's Red Quiona Salad with Bell Peppers and Pine Nuts
Kayln's Roasted Peppers
Susan's Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Soup
Lisa's Puy Lentil, Feta, and Roasted Red Pepper Salad