Grocers pepper Lawrence

Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Am I the only person who's noticed that we consumers of food are being fought over, tooth and nail, by the supermarkets on the west side of Lawrence?

I have never looked forward to shopping, and don't often get caught up in the thrill of the chase for bargains, but some of the price wars that our local grocers have been waging this summer have grabbed my attention. For the time being, at least, the increased competition is good for consumers.

Gwyn Mellinger grew up in Emporia and Salina. She graduated from Mills College, in Oakland, Calif., and has master's degrees from Emporia State and Kansas University. She lives with her husband Mike, stepson Cassady and four dogs in rural Douglas County, where she gardens. When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University.

Shoppers who were dazzled last week by the sales on T-bone steaks may have missed the bargain that stopped me in my tracks. One of the battling grocers had large, firm red bell peppers on sale for 59 cents apiece. I filled one of those long plastic produce bags with them and went home happy.

I love red bell peppers raw and sliced, or diced and added to a salad or cooked with eggs, but my favorite way to eat them is roasted and layered into a sandwich. Roasting mellows their sweetness, producing a rich, almost smoky, caramel flavor.

The uses for roasted red bell peppers is limited only by your imagination. Roasted peppers can be used to top pizza, baked into a calzone or added to a variety of vegetable dishes.

To prepare roasted red bell peppers, cut them lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place them skin side up on a broiler pan, and set them under a preheated broiler, two to three inches from the heat source. Turn the peppers as the skin begins to blacken.

Remove the peppers from the heat, place them in a plastic bag and seal the bag. Let the peppers steam for 15 or 20 minutes, then remove them and peel off their skins.

Place the peeled peppers in a shallow dish, drizzle them with lemon juice, and sprinkle them with ground black pepper. Store them in the refrigerator.

Here's a recipe for red pepper marmalade. Although the red bell peppers don't require roasting, the simmering process brings out their flavor. This zesty marmalade contains generous amounts of garlic and ginger and can be used to season meat and vegetables or as a sandwich spread. The recipe is from Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins' "The New Basics Cookbook" (Workman).

Red Pepper Marmalade

12 medium to large red bell peppers (about 3 pounds)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 rounded tablespoons minced garlic (10 cloves)

1/2 cup coarsely grated fresh ginger

Grated zest of 3 oranges

3/4 cup fresh orange juice

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Core and seed the peppers, and cut them into 1/4-inch-wide lengthwise strips.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy flameproof casserole dish. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, and stir well to coat. Mix in the orange zest, juice, sugar and pepper. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are wilted and their skins are soft, about 25 minutes.

Remove the cover and continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 hours.

Serve hot or at room temperature. The marmalade keeps in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Makes 4 cups.