Pick a peck of peppers, and roast ’em

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When peppers go on sale, buy a bunch and roast them yourself. (Photos by Laura Groch)

Roasted red peppers are a colorful, versatile addition to your kitchen palette. You can buy them for upwards of $6 a jar — or I can show you how to roast your own for a fraction of the cost. And with peppers at such bargain prices this week (they’re going at 3 and 4 for $1), it’s time for a lesson in this easy way to add a gourmet touch to summer salads, sandwiches, pizzas and more.

You don’t need to build a fire to roast a pepper. I often roast mine in my little toaster oven. You can also use your oven or even a barbecue grill (just make sure the fire isn’t TOO hot, as they can burn beyond salvaging in just a few moments).

Roasting (really, broiling) peppers softens them and adds a bit of sweetness. I like to roast red bell peppers, but any color pepper will work. Use what you like (that includes jalapenos, Anaheims, etc.) and whatever’s at the best market price.

Here’s how:

Wash peppers; slice them in half lengthwise. Clean out the seeds and remove the stems. Rub or spray with a little bit of olive oil if you wish. Lay them flat on a foil-covered roasting pan, skin side up — or if you’re using a grill, do them skin side down. The idea is to get the skin side close to the heat source.

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Broil or grill the peppers until the skins are blackened but not burned. (See photo: They should look a little bit scary.) Try to position the peppers so they blacken evenly; it’s not necessary to blacken the whole surface.

When the peppers are ready, use tongs to remove them from the oven or grill and transfer them into a plastic bag. (I usually save a couple of empty cereal bags — the kind that line cardboard boxes of cereal — for this purpose. They’re very sturdy and leak-proof.) Add any juices that may have collected in the pan. Then close the bag tightly with a clip or twist-tie. Leave some air space — you don’t have to roll the bag shut all the way down to where the peppers are.

Let the peppers rest in the bag for about 20 minutes. They’ll continue to steam for a bit, and then they’ll cool off enough for you to handle them.

Now you’re ready to peel them. Remove the pepper halves one by one from the bag. The blackened skin will have blistered and raised from the flesh a bit. Put the pepper on a cutting board and grab a piece of skin. It should peel away easily from most of the pepper’s surface. You may not be able to remove all the skin — that’s OK.

Slice the peeled pepper into strips (my preference) or leave them in bigger pieces. Put the peeled peppers into a bowl, and pour over any juices that may have collected in the bag or on your cutting board. You can now add some olive oil to them, a dash of your favorite vinegar if you like, or maybe some shaved garlic. Stir and refrigerate.

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What can you do with roasted peppers? Try them as part of an antipasto plate with olives, mozzarella, salami and artichokes. Use them to liven up salads. They’re also wonderful in an omelet or frittata or quiche, and on homemade pizza (or add them to storebought pizza). Stir them into a pasta dish with chopped tomatoes and/or sauteed zucchini.

They’re also great in sandwiches. One of my favorites is a simple vegetarian sandwich: Split open a crusty roll or other sturdy bread, spread with a little hot chili sauce, and then top with hummus, sliced red onion, tomato, cucumber and roasted peppers. Yum! It’s light and easy on a hot day when you don’t feel like cooking.

I’m sure you’ll come up with more ideas. Roasted peppers will keep for about a week in the fridge. I don’t recommend freezing them, as the texture will break down too much. So enjoy them — and the money you just saved by making them yourself!

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013

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