WHEN I WAS growing up, my parents always had a garden. My dad dabbled in different things. Over time, he settled into a predictable plot: tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, lettuce, parsley and a handful of pepper varieties. I hadn’t realized how his commitment had grown until I visited their home in Horace, North Dakota, last spring and witnessed a makeshift greenhouse in a room above their garage, dew-coated plastic and grow lights in front of a large window babying tender plant sprouts and a steady stream of classic rock providing a soundtrack to grow to.
What’s getting the most attention? The peppers. He grows bells, sweet Italian reds, hot yellow bananas, jalapeños and sometimes tiny blistering Thai chilies or even scotch bonnets. Come fall, peppers are life. They are sliced and packed with oil, celery and olives for pepper salad. They’re diced and mixed with his tomatoes for salsa and pizza sauce. But most important, they are fried for pepper sandwiches.
The fried pepper sandwich is legendary and has been in my family since before my dad was born. It features sliced peppers, fried in oil until tender, and sprinkled with salt; fresh thinly sliced garlic; and parsley. Best-case scenario, the still-warm peppers are layered with hard salami and provolone cheese on slices of sturdy bread — but even fridge-cold peppers are wonderful. During pepper season, my parents’ friends are seemingly always stopping by unexpectedly for a sandwich.
The last time my parents came to Seattle, it happened to be October — and you’d better believe my dad flew with a Ziploc bag of fried peppers. We eagerly headed to DeLaurenti in search of the perfect loaf of bread; a half-pound of tissue-thin salami; and the perfect aged provolone, complete with tiny crystalline crunches in each nutty bite.
Luckily, you don’t have to know my dad to get your own pepper sandwich. Just visit your favorite pepper farmer at one of Seattle’s markets. I love the people at Tonnemaker.
You’re going to want a sweet pepper — think pimento, or something that might be labeled as a frying pepper — and a hot pepper. The hot peppers might be labeled banana, or hot Hungarian or wax peppers. (When in doubt, ask.) These shouldn’t be way up on the Scoville scale, like a ghost pepper or even a serrano, but you want a little heat. Choose yellow, orange or red, as they tend to be sweeter than green peppers.
When frying, keep the burner on medium, and don’t fry too hot or fast. Aim for tender, not crisp. Never, ever cook the garlic. When it comes to parsley, curly or flat leaf depends on your personal preference, as does bread choice. You’ll need something that can soak up a little oil and stay together in your hands.
If sandwiches aren’t your style, layer these peppers on your next pizza, or throw them in an omelet. Chop and mix them into softened cream cheese for a spread, or throw them on a burger or brat. Before you know it, you’ll be back at the market, searching out more peppers.
Fried Pepper Sandwich
4 slices sturdy bread: sourdough, potato loaf or como
4-6 slices aged provolone cheese
8-10 slices hard salami
4-6 slices fried peppers
Making the Fried Peppers
4 sweet Italian red peppers
3 hot yellow banana peppers
½ bunch fresh Italian parsley
2-3 cloves garlic
11/3 cup olive oil
1. Cut the stems off and deseed the peppers, being cautious of the yellow banana peppers, as they are very hot. Wear gloves if you’re extra-sensitive, and don’t rub your eyes without washing your hands first. Slice lengthwise into large pieces.
2. Finely chop parsley; set aside.
3. Thinly slice garlic cloves; set aside.
4. In a large saute pan with deep sides set over medium heat, heat the olive oil for about 30 seconds. Working in batches if necessary, place a few slices of peppers in the pan, being careful not to crowd too much. Peppers should be in one layer.
5. Sauté the peppers for 4 to 6 minutes on each side. Some browning will occur, and the skins will become slightly shiny. Be careful not to overcook; the finished peppers should still be slightly firm when pierced with a fork.
6. Remove from pan, and place in a deep dish. Sprinkle the peppers with the chopped parsley, sliced garlic and a sprinkling of salt, repeating in layers until all the peppers are cooked. Finish by pouring remaining oil from pan into the dish to help preserve the peppers.
7. Build a sandwich layering fried peppers closest to the bread, so the bread absorbs their excess oil. Then add provolone, and top with salami and another piece of bread.