Photos by Josh Keown
Whether topping an inventive pizza, used in pasta dishes or on sandwiches, sweet peppers are a fresh, healthy and delicious hit with customers. While bell peppers are widely used in the pizza industry, banana peppers, cherry peppers and other varieties are great options for operators looking to expand their selections.
I love to reminisce about days of old and think it’s funny how certain things we see or old friends we talk to take us back to a different time and place. What amazes me even more is when the taste or smell of food brings me back to my childhood. There’s nothing like the aroma of grilled fresh pepper mixed with onion. Doesn’t that bring you back to every fair or carnival you ever went to?
One of my all-time favorites is fi re-roasted peppers. Roasted red peppers make the top of my list. There are so many different things you can do with them for just about every segment of your menu. In the same way when caramelizing onions, fire-roasting peppers bring out more of their natural sugars giving them a nice sweet characteristic. Peppers are grown in so many different colors now that adding orange, red, yellow, purple and green peppers will make any dish visually stimulating.
Whether you use your peppers raw, sautéed, fire-grilled, on skewers or cut into a mince, chop, chunk or strip, they can really bring your menu to life. Let me give you several successful ways that I have used a variety of sweet peppers on my menus and on catered events:
❖ Cherry peppers are great simply added to salads or even your salad bar, but why not take these delightful small peppers and stuff them? The sky is the limit, but prosciutto with provolone, mozzarella or even feta cheese makes a great start! Cutting cherry peppers in half and stuffing them instead of mushroom caps adds a whole different dimension to hot or cold appetizers.
❖ Banana pepper rings are sweet in comparison to a jalapeño or even a pepperoncini, but still offer a tiny bite to them. Again, on salads and salad bars these delicious peppers are irresistible. Don’t stop there, however. When you take your fried calamari rings out of the hot oil, add a dozen or so banana pepper rings to them and toss them together with shredded Parmesan to really enhance your presentation and munchability. I serve Italian nachos in my restaurant, and besides diced tomatoes and sliced black olives, banana pepper rings proudly sit atop of this amazing appetizer, along with Alfredo, meat sauce and mozzarella cheese.
❖ You can create a beautiful Fra Diavlo sauce by using any blend of your favorite peppers cut into chunks and sautéed with garlic and crushed red pepper, then simmered with a great marinara. This sauce can be used for many different pasta dishes. Penne and sausage Fra Diavlo or a Seafood Fra Diavlo with shrimp, scallops and mussels are just two amazing choices.
I know I shared with you that fire roasted red peppers are my favorite, so let me tell you how to fire roast a pepper. First of all, this should be done in a restaurant under an exhaust hood or outside, but not in a household kitchen. I like to rub my peppers very lightly with a little bit of vegetable oil. This will help them burn easier. You then want to place your peppers over an open fi re. You want to burn the outside of your peppers just until they are black. You’ll need to turn them to achieve this consistently over the whole pepper. Don’t be fooled by its outside appearance. Simply set them aside for about 10 minutes until they cool just enough to handle them. Placing the burnt pepper in a bag will help steam the outside of the skin, which will help it peal easier. I then peel the black skin off of the pepper under cool running water. Next pop the core and seeds out and you’re left with a beautiful roasted red pepper that can probably be used in a hundred different ways. Use them on an Antipasto salad or any other variety of salads.
How about chopping that roasted red pepper up finely and mixing it with a cup of ricotta cheese and 3 ounces of gorgonzola cheese to make a ravioli filling? Wow –– now that would be an awesome appetizer or entrée tossed with your guest’s favorite sauce. I’d suggest a nice Alfredo or perhaps a garlic and sage butter with fresh chives.
Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
1 roasted red pepper
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pesto
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend.
To make a roasted red pepper mayo, take ¼ cup of your new red pepper pesto and add it to ½ cup of mayonnaise. One great wrap that I created several years ago using that very spread was called a Tuscan Club wrap. I used a tomato basil wrap with the roasted red pepper pesto, sliced turkey, ham, Genoa salami, provolone cheese, lettuce and tomato. Give it try, because it was a huge hit with my customers.
Don’t forget to be creative with blending an array of sweet pepper throughout your menu. If you want to start with something simple, try a Pepper Palooza Pizza: using your traditional crust, sauce and cheese, add an array of different colored peppers. The look of this pizza alone will invoke others to try this treasure of a pie. So go ahead, pepper things up a bit! ❖
Jeffrey Freehof, owner of The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia, is Pizza Today’s resident expert.
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