My friends were jealous. One blustery night in January, I happened to mention that I had the out-of-season pleasure of sautéing September’s red peppers for a homemade pizza. In fact, I said, there’s hardly an entrée that isn’t enhanced with a peppery punch.

Sizzling red peppers
Sizzling red peppers await their dinner table fate.
Photo Credit: ©2008 Dan Hemmelgarn
Frozen red peppers
A simple freezer bag is the key to red pepper heaven in the middle of winter.
Photo Credit: ©2008 Dan Hemmelgarn
Ripening red peppers
Homegrown red peppers get sweeter by the day.
Photo Credit: ©2008 Dan Hemmelgarn

I couldn’t help myself. I’m personally passionate about peppers – and the redder, the better. I’m not talking about the near-tasteless lone variety that’s imported from Holland (of all places!) found lurking in Midwestern produce sections in the dead of winter. Those imposters can’t hold a candle to the taste bud-bursting flavor and wonderful fragrance that only a homegrown pepper delivers.

Sadly, “red pepper season” is woefully stunted. By the time my peppers develop their deep ruby hue, I know that frost is not far off, and I had better start preparing for winter. By that, I mean freezing – stocking my freezer with ready-to-stir-fry red pepper slices and strips.

Thankfully, my local farmers’ market supplements my never-adequate home-garden production with a dizzying variety of peppers, from basic Bells and Anaheims to Italian roasters, Cayennes and Hungarian Red Cherries. I actually owe my expanded pepper palate to one of my favorite farmers (and fellow pepper enthusiast), Mike McGowan. He vowed to grow no less than 20 varieties this summer! And, no, he won’t sell a single pepper green, “because they taste sweeter and look better after they color up.”

But Mike brings more than a pretty peck of peppers to market. He supports biological diversity. And his wide range of peppers reward eaters with distinctive degrees of flavor, plus unique health-promoting arrays of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

By preserving peppers in the fall, you can beat pepper envy any day! Here’s how to freeze ruby red ringlets and strips in 3 easy steps:

  1. Wash and dry peppers.

  2. Slice off the stem end and reach in to remove most of the seeds. (You can save some for next summer’s garden, and send the rest to the compost pile.) Slice across the top of the pepper for rings, or cut down the sides for strips to suit your personal recipes. 

  3. Seal your cut peppers in quart freezer bags and freeze. Any time you need peppers to dress up a dish, just reach in and grab a handful of red, flavor-filled heaven.

Yes, it’s that easy.

Add red peppers to your favorite recipes, or try sautéing them. Here’s how: In a heavy skillet, add 1-2 tablespoons of organic, extra virgin olive oil. Add a crushed clove of garlic and some sliced red onion. Stir gently over medium heat until the onion is golden (just a few minutes). Add a handful of frozen red pepper strips and allow to heat through for another few minutes, tossing gently. Remove from heat and use to your heart’s (and imagination’s) delight!

Sautéed red peppers pair perfectly with pasta, pizza, quesadillas and frittatas:

  • Top a bowl of mundane pasta marinara with sautéed peppers and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

  • Make an omelet. When eggs are just set, add a layer of peppers, then sprinkle cheddar cheese on top. 

  • Top off a plain cheese pizza with your pepper blend, and call it a gourmet pie.

  • Add pepper mix to beans and salsa when rolling up a burrito or assembling a quesadilla for a taste of the flavorful Southwest.

Red peppers make a great side to a main dish, bring extra flavor to recipes and are a terrific “anytime” snack. Best of all, they’re easy to store and bring back the taste of homegrown goodness in the middle of winter – making you even more eager of your next harvest!