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Before we know it, autumn has arrived. The mornings arrive crisp and heavy-dewed, there’s a bite in the air and the light of the day starts to dwindle noticeably earlier. Like squirrels we gather our harvests and set about preserving the season’s flavours in preparation for the cold months ahead. A star of this season is the lovely crisp, glossy capsicum or bell pepper. But it’s a race against time for capsicums – they are destined to collapse at the first whack of frost. Green capsicums are actually unripe red capsicums – same fruit but less time on the vine. When red they are very sweet and more easily digested.
Capsicums and chillies are warm-weather plants, so make sure seedlings are planted in a sheltered, sunny spot to thrive. Mix plenty of compost into the soil to get them started and a plastic cloche can be useful to protect young seedlings from temperature fluctuations. Water liberally once the fruit has set on the plants.
To prepare capsicums, cut them in half, remove the seeds and core and discard the white pith. Eat raw in salads or cook in a little olive oil with onions and garlic as a starting point for sauces, stir-fries, tagines and stews. Roasting is one of the best ways to concentrate the flavour of capsicums. Place washed, halved capsicums on a tray in an oven preheated to 220 degrees Celsius and roast until blistered and charred (about 20 minutes). Cool in a sealed container or plastic bag and then peel off skins and remove seeds and pith. Roasted capsicums emerge as meltingly tender, and with a dense and sweetly caramelised flavour. From here it’s simple to spring-board off into a vast array of salads, pasta dishes, sauces and soups. While in peak supply, roast these succulent veges in bulk and store them in the fridge or freezer. Halved capsicums can be stuffed with all kinds of savoury mixtures (cheese, rice and herbs, and spicy mince) then baked.
These are some of my favourite recipes for capsicums:
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