Local preserving season is slowing down with the quieting of the harvest. One can still pickle onions, beets, garlic and other cellared delights but the variety is not as boundless as early autumn.
Preserving roasted peppers typically mark the closing of the harvest for our family. They are the easiest batch of preserving we do in a year and one of my favourites through the winter. We usually use Sheppard peppers (which are long and red) and/ or hot peppers (often processed separately) but anything fresh and local will do.
Roasted pepper puree is also a hit amongst people who traditionally claim they do not like peppers. Some find peppers to be very bitter – it is my experience that people who dislike peppers actually dislike the skin and once it is removed from the sweet flesh of the vegetable, many actually adore them.
The first step is to roast the peppers themselves. We remove any stickers which appear on them and rinse the dirtiest ones. From there they go whole on the hottest barbeque we can create and shut the lid.
I used to worry about burning the peppers too much – do not be afraid of burning them, it’s kind of the point. I find that shutting the lid is very important to raise the heat which produces a natural sweat which helps separate the skin from the flesh of the vegetable.
Use tongs to flip and try not to puncture the pepper (we’ll explain why when we speak of the juices below).
Once they have fully charred (remember to char the tops and bottoms as you are trying to remove all the skin), place them in a plastic grocery bag and twist it sealed. This will promote further sweating and skin separation. Let them cool to the touch in the plastic bag – we put our bag within a pot as the bad tends to leak juices which make a mess.
Once cooled, peel the skin and loosely clean the peppers – we do this by turning them inside out. You will find there are two types of juices produced:
- Juices from outside the pepper/ sitting in the bag. This juice is dark and tainted with the charred skin. It is bitter and nasty (though I have wondered if I could preserve it to use it as liquid smoke in the winter). Avoid this falling into your cleaned peppers – it will taint your flavors and, potentially, ruin them. Do not worry about the odd drop but do be mindful.
- Juices from inside the pepper. These are sweet and intoxicating. We loose much of this but the clear juice from sweating inside the sealed peppers. You could drain these into a bowl one pepper at a time and, assuming they are sweet and clear (taste to confirm), add them to your peppers.
Add your peppers to a food processer and blend till pulped. The peppers will be the consistency of tomato sauce.
Pour small portions (I prefer ½ cup to ¾ of a cup) into ziplock bags. Eliminate the air and flatten – freeze as such. You do not need monster bags – this is pure pepper concentrate and a small amount goes a long way.
The roasted pepper purée can be added to dips, hummus, soups, chilli or your tomato sauce to take local flavors to the next level through the winter.
[Edit (October 10, 2013): This article was written almost 4 years ago to today (October 14, 2009). While the essence of everything I've written here still applies, I've learned a few tricks that can be added to the lessons above when freezing roasted red peppers]