Best season, summer and autumn
Once an exotic import from the Mediterranean, now an everyday, ever-available staple, but best home grown in the summer and autumn. Peppers actually come in all kinds of colours, but red, green and yellow are the most widely available. When peppers are grown, they begin green, and then, if left on the stalks to mature, this mellowing results in red peppers, with a sweeter flesh (which is better if they are to be eaten raw or only lightly cooked).
But the green ones do have a special character of their own – a sharper, more robust flavour, which stands up to long, slow cooking. For this reason, I am very much against any snobbish dismissal of green peppers as being somehow inferior. In fact, certain cuisines, such as Cajun and Creole, seem to only ever include green peppers in their recipes.
Yellow peppers are more like red in flavour, and their golden-yellow colour can look very pretty in certain dishes.
To prepare peppers, firstly, slice the top off the pepper, including the stalk, then with the tip of a small knife, scrape out the seeds and core. Now slice the pepper into quarters, and again, using the tip of the knife, slice away any very white, pithy bits. Then slice or chop according to the recipe . If the recipe calls for finely chopped pepper, you can use the round lid bit around the stalk and chop that, too.
To cook peppers: to peel or not to peel is the vexed question. I say don’t bother. After discovering the recipe for Piedmont Roasted Peppers – which are lovely in the autumn when the peppers are in season and the tomatoes are ripe and red – and publishing it in my book Summer Collection, I decided they were the very best cooked peppers I’d ever tasted, so I stopped going to the bother of peeling them.
So all the recipes I have done since then use the peppers as they are, skins and all. They can be sautéed, stir-fried in strips till blackened at the edges and tender, or oven-roasted, sprinkled firstly with olive oil and seasoning, then placed in the oven at gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C) for 30-40 minutes
Make the peppers ahead for an easy dish when entertaining. Stuffing vegetables with a mixture of rice, nuts and dried fruit adds plenty of flavour and a very Mediterranean element.
Dhal is simply the Indian word for lentils. The best kind to use for this are the red split lentils which most supermarkets stock.
Black-eyed beans are the lovely nutty beans that are popular in recipes from the deep south of America and, with the addition of other vegetables, they make very good beancakes.
A treat for vegetarians, you can use whatever cheese you like for this - and you must try the Sweet Pepper Marmalade which is a revelation with cheese or even cold meats.
A spicy Peruvian dish with a wonderful and unusual walnut sauce, made simple with the help of a top-class prepared potato ingredient. Colourful and light, it makes a great supper or lunch dish for vegetarians.
Salsas are at the height of food fashion at the moment - and this is one of the best: healthy, easy to make and magnificent with rosti crab cakes, salmon, chicken or grilled meats!
This famous Provençal vegetable stew is best made in the autumn when the vegetables needed for it are cheap and plentiful. This can be a most attractive dish but not if it ends up mushy. So to avoid this, make sure you don't cut up the vegetables too
This is a truly beautiful soup for serving ice-cold during the summer and it's particularly refreshing if we're lucky enough to have hot weather.
If you're cooking for vegetarians, these wonderful kebabs will go down a storm. The halloumi cheese is firm enough to withstand grilling, and combines beautifully with the other flavours in this recipe.
Good old rice salad is an absolute must at a buffet party. This one, made with wild rice, looks very pretty with the jewelled colours of the dried cranberries and nuts.