Last spring I planted sweet pepper seeds from about six different packets of varying ages, and none of them came up. It’s not unusual for a few peppers to sprout only to succumb either to an invasion of slugs or to a late frost when I forget to cover the beds, but zero, I’m pretty sure that’s a record. The tomatoes did a little better, but I still lacked some of the cultivars I wanted, so I went searching on some bulletin board websites to see what people had to offer. Craigslist delivered with a local gardener who clearly has a lot more protected growing space than I do, had produced flats of all kinds of peppers and tomatoes, and had left them in the driveway to be picked up and paid for using the honor system. Taped to a table was a sheet of paper describing the pricing structure and how to use Venmo or PayPal, but I went in the old fashioned direction, selected five seedlings for ten bucks, and pushed a bill through the slot in the garage door. It was a truly satisfying transaction.
One of the cultivars for sale was Italia sweet peppers. I had no idea what those were, but I do have a soft spot for Italian-bred vegetables, so I took two plants home, snipped off all the lower leaves, and set them as far as I could into the ground with the tops protruding, a “tomato” cage surrounding each one, and a few shovels full of compost around them for good measure. Sweet peppers tend to do pretty well in my garden, but they also have a habit of turning red, and red has a habit of attracting frugivorous birds. Waiting for each fruit to turn the perfect shade of ripe inevitably results in finding it riddled with holes. I chose red cages hoping that the birds might investigate and, finding nothing edible, would decide not to return if more color appeared. Whether or not that’s the reason nobody decided to eat this year’s crop, I’ll go ahead and feel good about it anyway. I figure if the gardeners get blamed for the losses, we may as well take credit for the successes, too.
I wasn’t sure what to do with such unusual bounty, and I already had a few containers of roasted bell peppers in the freezer, so I took to the inter webs. Domenica Marchetti, who authored one of my favorite vegetable cookbooks, has a beautiful website where I found a recipe for sweet and sour roasted peppers with capers. The Italia peppers are a little thinner-walled than the bell peppers that are recommended, but with so many to use, I chucked them on the grill anyway, hoping for the best. The olive oil, garlic, and capers came from the store, but I used homemade white wine vinegar and Italian Flat-leaf parsley from the garden.
The peppers marinated for a few hours on the counter, then the jar went into the fridge where it got put behind a few things and forgotten, but I recently rediscovered it and pulled it out on a day when I was making bread. With a little chèvre as a base coat, these were quite wonderful, with each bite combining a little bit of sweetness, the sharpness of vinegar, and the saltiness of the capers. I’m wishing I had made more, and will do so next year, but once these are all gone, I’ll still have the reward of a richly-flavored olive oil to add to this and that. And I’ll also write myself a reminder to buy some pepper seeds for the coming spring.