My Goals

  • Bell peppers that cook quickly

  • Bell peppers that lie flat

  • Substantial char

  • Easier to peel

Do-it-yourself kitchen projects might be fun, but they can also be an extravagant use of money and time. I’ve tried making things such as sausage and cheese at home, but because my versions weren’t objectively better than what I could have bought, I considered most of these projects net losses. A notable exception? Roasted bell peppers.

The roasted bell peppers you buy in a jar are acceptable, but they have significantly less flavor than bell peppers you roast yourself. The dusky, muted color of the homemade kind is evidence that the skins have been thoroughly charred before being peeled away. That’s important because it’s the charring that imbues the flesh with a rich, complex sweetness and a subtle but pervasive smokiness. Their velvety texture purees beautifully for soups and dips and makes a nice addition to salads. And if superior quality isn’t enough to convince you, how about this? Home-roasted bell peppers cost less than jarred, and the process is so quick that it’s a stretch to call it a “project.”

The basic method: Cook the bell peppers until their skins char and start to lift away from the softening flesh. Enclose them in a bag or sealed bowl to steam for a bit, and then peel away the skins and discard them. Finally, remove the stems, cores, ribs, and seeds. But how do you cook a bell pepper? It turned out that actually roasting it, by placing a whole bell pepper on a baking sheet in the oven, was the worst way. It took about 45 minutes in a 450-degree oven for the skin to char, by which time the moisture trapped in the bell pepper had turned to steam, causing the flesh to become not just soft but mushy. Finally, it was hard to peel off the skin without tearing the delicate flesh, and removing the slippery, wet ribs and seeds was tedious.

I switched to an elemental approach and placed whole bell peppers directly over the flames of both a grill and a gas burner. It took only about 15 minutes for the intense, targeted heat to char the skin, which meant that the bell peppers were tender but still meaty. They also tasted great. But dealing with the cooked innards was just as annoying as before, and not all cooks have a gas cooktop or a grill.

For even charring, we break the peppers down beforehand—which also means less work once they’re done cooking.

Next up: the broiler. To accommodate their height, I had to place the bell peppers pretty far away from the element, which meant that the heat wasn’t very intense. The bell peppers required 30 minutes of monitoring and turning to char, and by that time they were too soft for anything but soup. But I could see that broiling wasn’t the problem; it was the fact that the bell peppers were whole. Cutting the bell peppers before broiling would have a few benefits: I’d be able to remove the cores, ribs, and seeds before cooking, which is easier; I’d be able to place the pieces closer to the element for quicker cooking; and the steam wouldn’t cook the bell peppers from the inside out.

For even browning, I used a cutting technique that produced one long, flat strip and two rounds per bell pepper. I laid the pieces on a baking sheet lined with greased aluminum foil to prevent sticking and placed the sheet 5 inches from the broiler, where the bell peppers charred in about 12 minutes. For easy cleanup, I steamed the bell peppers in a pouch fashioned from the foil on which they’d been cooked.

These bell peppers were perfectly browned, and their skins peeled away easily after steaming. They had just the lush, tender texture I wanted; they tasted sweet, mellow, and smoky; and they had taken less than 30 minutes to prepare.

To finish, I developed a few recipes to showcase them—a walnut dip; a peperonata topping for bread, fish, or chicken; and a salad with white beans and arugula. But really, these bell peppers are great on almost anything: sandwiches, scrambled eggs, pasta, pizza. Or just a fork.

Eat these roasted bell peppers by themselves or in one of the three recipes we developed to show off their rich, complex flavor.

Keys to Success

  • Bell peppers that cook quickly

    Cutting the bell peppers into pieces prevents them from steaming to mush before they char.
  • Bell peppers that lie flat

    Cutting each bell pepper into one long strip and two rounds means that they lie flat for quick, even charring.
  • Substantial char

    Broiling the pieces until the skin is well charred and puffy makes the skin easier to remove and gives the flesh sweet, smoky flavor.
  • Easier to peel

    Steaming the bell pepper pieces in a pouch fashioned from the aluminum foil on which they were cooked expedites peeling and cleanup.