Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Mini-Sweet Peppers

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
A few weeks ago at our farmer’s market stand, Chef Patrick DePula of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies was perusing our pepper selection. He paused in front of the mini sweets and, picking one up, asked, “What are these?” “Try one,” we said. He did. We waited for his reaction, which came in the form of a question: “Can I have another one?”

We feel exactly the same way about these oh-so-scrumptious little peppers. Despite their size, they are one of the most flavorful sweet peppers we’ve ever tasted! One of the most common questions we get from newcomers is: “How hot are they?” While the variety we grow did originate in Mexico, where small peppers typically equate to high heat, you won’t find a trace of hotness here. Just crispy, crunchy sweetness.

Mini Sweet Peppers have an interesting history at Harmony Valley Farm.  About 12 years ago, a long-time CSA member tipped Richard off to this little snack pepper.  He told Richard how he’d picked up a package of tiny peppers from his local co-op. They had been grown organically in Mexico, and he’d never before seen anything like them. Richard was sufficiently intrigued, so he stopped at the co-op and picked up a package of those little peppers. He ate every last mini sweet, while carefully saving the seeds from each one.  And so began HVF’s adventure with mini sweet peppers.
Over the past 10-12 years, Richard and the crew have continued to save seeds from peppers growing on plants that exhibit ideal characteristics. From a modest beginning of saving and planting under 20 seeds from that original package of mini sweets, we have now worked our way up to saving an average of 8,000 seeds per year!

When we first started growing them, mini sweet pepper seed stock was not widely available—you couldn’t find them in any seed catalogs and you’d be hard pressed to locate any producers growing them for market—not just in Wisconsin but across the country! It was only a matter of time before mini sweet seeds became commercially available. Seed catalogs began advertising a variety called “Yummy.” Thinking about all of the time and energy that HVF puts into selecting and saving seeds from year to year, Richard decided to try out this new variety. As the peppers matured, we taste-tested them side-by-side with our mini-sweet variety.  It was very clear from the first few bites that the “Yummy” peppers were a far cry from our variety. And so, when you bite into your next HVF mini sweet pepper, you’re biting into a fruit that embodies over a decade’s worth of painstaking seed selection—not to mention a fruit that reflects HVF’s unwillingness to exchange high quality for ease and convenience.

When it comes to eating these little peppers, the easiest thing to do is just pop them in your mouth—they’re perfectly snack-sized and contain only a small amount of seeds. If you want to take it up a notch, slice them lengthwise and stuff them with soft cheese. Either toss them onto the grill or into the oven for that nice “melty” effect. You can also freeze these little guys whole & raw—no blanching required.  Just put them in a freezer bag and stash them away until the winter. Your only concern should be making sure you freeze enough…

End of Summer Vegetable Ragout with Fettuccine

by Chef Andrea Yoder
Yield: 4-5 Servings
2 tsp olive oil
8 oz ground beef or pork (optional)
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups diced fresh tomatoes (skin, seeds and all)
1 cup diced carrots
⅓ cup white wine
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar, plus more to taste
1 ½-2 cups diced zucchini
8 oz mini-sweet peppers (approximately 10-12 peppers),diced
Salt & Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8-12 oz fettuccine noodles, cooked according to package instructions
½ cup fresh herbs, coarsely chopped (parsley, oregano, basil, or other as available)
Parmesan cheese, for garnishing

  1. Heat a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and ground beef or pork (if you choose to include meat).  Cook the meat until lightly browned, then add the onions and garlic.  If you are not including meat, simply heat the oil and add the onions and garlic to the pan.  Saute the mixture until the onions are fragrant and starting to soften.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes and carrots.  Cover and simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture becomes juicy.  Remove the lid from the pan and add the white wine and 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  3. Next, add the zucchini & mini sweet peppers.  Season the mixture with salt and black pepper.  Simmer for an additional 6-8 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened to the consistency you prefer (it should be thick, yet juicy enough to coat the fettuccine).
  4. Remove the pan from the heat.  Adjust the seasoning to taste by adding salt, pepper and an additional 2-4 tsp balsamic vinegar.  Gently stir in the fresh herbs.  
  5. Serve the fettuccine topped with the ragout and garnished with Parmesan cheese.

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