Can you believe we are halfway through August already? I keep thinking it’s still July! It seems like summer goes by way too fast every year, especially when you are kept busy with projects, camps, vacations, and gardening. While summer may be nearing its end, but our plant sure aren’t!
Each week, we have more and more tomatoes ripening. Our kale and lettuce is still growing strong, and we are continuing to harvest Swiss chard, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, string beans, banana peppers, and lots of herbs. This week, we harvested our first bell peppers. They’re not quite as big as the ones you find at the store, but they taste just as good, if not better!
Sweet bell peppers are my favorite veggie to snack on. These bell-shaped boxy vegetables are actually a fruit, botanically speaking. They are members of the nightshade family of plants, which also includes tomatoes and eggplant. Bell peppers are sweet, as opposed to hot chili peppers, because they lack capsaicin – the compound that gives other peppers a spicy taste. Bell peppers are also unique because they come in a variety of colors from red, orange, green, and yellow to purple and even brown! Green bell peppers are unripe and have a slightly bitter flavor. They then change to yellow or orange and finally red. Red bell peppers are the ripest and have the sweetest taste.
Each type of bell pepper has a slightly different nutritional profile. However, in general, bell peppers contain significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and fiber, as well as the antioxidant compounds known as carotenoids. These carotenoids help to stabilize free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative damage. This in turn reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases. Similar to carrots, bell peppers contain the specific carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These are essential compounds for healthy eyes and vision. Lutein has even been shown to treat macular degeneration. Red bell peppers contain over 200% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A and 75% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C! Both vitamin A and vitamin C help to support the immune system. Vitamin A also works with carotenoids to support eye health, and vitamin C supports skin health by promoting collagen production. Vitamin C additionally enhances the absorption of iron by preventing certain inhibitors from binding to iron. This works best when iron and vitamin C are consumed together in the same meal, which is why chicken and stir fry veggies (with bell peppers) is a delicious and nutritious meal!
Bell peppers can be enjoyed raw or cooked. They make great vessels for all kinds of stuffing, and they are also great in salads, soups, fajitas, and pastas. Here is a recipe for a summer panzanella salad perfect for the last couple of summer barbecues and parties:
Summer Panzanella Salad
- 3 cups artisan-style bread, cut into cubes (sub GF bread)
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 pint multi-colored cherry tomatoes
- 3 bell peppers (one each – yellow, red, green)
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Slice the bread into cubes. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Spread in a single layer and bake until golden brown, about 7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Dice the bell peppers. Thinly slice the red onion. Mince the garlic. Thinly slice the basil (chiffonade).
- In a medium bowl, combine the sherry vinegar, and garlic. Gradually whisk in 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a creamy emulsion forms. Season with salt and black pepper.
- In a large bowl, combine the chopped vegetables, dressing, basil, and toasted bread. (If making in advance, add the toasted bread last to avoid becoming soggy.) Allow to stand about 15 minutes for the flavors to meld, then serve immediately. (Leftovers are delicious, but the bread becomes soggy after a few hours.)
Adapted from: A Couple Cooks Blog (https://www.acouplecooks.com/panzanella-with-cherry-tomatoes-and-bell-peppers/)
Even though summer is coming to an end, you can still plant more vegetables in your garden! Watch this video to learn about 20 crops you can still grow in August. Beets, beans, cucumber, carrots, spinach, lettuce, turnips, and broccoli are just some of vegetables perfect for a fall garden!
Have a great weekend!