Make the perfect side dish with in-season sweet peppers

Josh Plymale and Jessica Legendre are the farmers of Elm Street Gardens in Sparta. They came to the farm with experience at other farms in metro Atlanta, Texas and North Carolina, and that shapes what they grow and how they grow it.

One of the things they grow a lot of is peppers. They’re growing orange, red and yellow bell peppers, poblano peppers, shishito peppers, Carmen peppers and Jimmy Nardello peppers. Plymale was introduced to Jimmy Nardello peppers by Cory Mosser at Burge Organic Farm. Once Plymale started growing it, he was hooked as well.

A common misconception Elm Street Gardens farmers encounters at their booths at the Saturday morning Morningside and Freedom farmers markets is that a big round pepper is always sweet and a long skinny pepper is always hot.

Legendre spends many Saturday mornings explaining that the long bright red Jimmy Nardello pepper is a thin-skinned sweet pepper, an heirloom variety that dates back to the late 1880s. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds tells the story of the Nardiellos, who brought seed from their family home in Italy when they settled in Naugatuck, Connecticut. They named the pepper for their fourth son Jimmy and somehow the name morphed over time to “Jimmy Nardello” instead of “Jimmy Nardiello.”

Elm Street has 80 Jimmy Nardello plants growing, raised from seed started in the greenhouse in the middle of March and with seedlings transplanted outside in late April. Harvest began in mid-June and will go on up to frost.

“They produce a lot of fruit,” said Legendre. “Unlike any other sweet pepper, they also continuously set fruit throughout the season. Most bell peppers push out quite a few fruit, then pause. These are continuously putting out new flowers and new fruit. If anything, they become more prolific as the season goes on. It’s really nice to have that constant supply of these peppers.”

And she finds they’re a good snacking pepper. “I like eating them right out in the field. If I can eat anything while I’m harvesting it, then it’s a staple crop for me. I always have to have something to munch on,” she says laughing. She stresses that while it’s sweet, it’s not like eating candy. “It’s just a really nice sweet pepper.”

The ones that make it into the farmhouse are most often sliced up onto salads. But they really enjoyed a jar of Jenn Robbin’s Candied Sweet Peppers from last season’s harvest. “When we got the jar last year, we ate the whole thing within a two-day period.”

Jenn Robbins’ Whipped Chevre with Candied Sweet Peppers

Robbins is a staunch supporter of local farmers and local farrmers markets. Well-known for her chef demos around town, she created this recipe for a demo at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. This is a fresh take on the classic Southern appetizer of cream cheese and hot pepper jelly.

1 pound fresh chevre, room temperature

1 tablespoon heavy cream, plus more if needed

Kosher salt

1/2 cup Candied Sweet Peppers (see recipe)

Crackers, crudite for serving

In a medium bowl, combine chevre and cream until mixture reaches a spreadable consistency. Add more cream if needed. Taste for salt. Put mixture into a serving bowl and cover with Candied Sweet Peppers. Serve with crackers or crudite. Makes: 2 cups

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 55 calories (percent of calories from fat, 53), 3 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 55 milligrams sodium.

Candied Sweet Peppers

Robbins prefers bright red Jimmy Nardello peppers in this recipe, but any sweet Italian frying pepper like a chartreuse green Cubanelle will do as well.

1 pound sweet Italian frying peppers

1/3 cup dry sherry

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 small hot pepper, minced

1 garlic clove, slivered

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

Pinch kosher salt

Starting at the tips of the peppers, slice each into 1/8-inch thick rings. When you reach the seeds, cut off the tops, split the pepper in half, remove the seeds and julienne the remaining flesh. You should have 4 cups of pepper rings and strips. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat sherry until it has reduced by half. Add sugar and water and bring mixture to a full boil. Add the prepared peppers, hot pepper and garlic and turn the burner to medium-high. Keep stirring as the peppers release their liquid. Reduce heat and cook peppers until the syrup has reduced and the peppers are tender. Remove from heat. Season with sherry vinegar and salt and set aside to cool. Makes: 1 1/2 cups

Per 1-teaspoon serving: 18 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.

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