Sweet peppers: Perfectly delicious and so hard to wait for! Even when summer is in full swing, those pokey peppers are still green on the plant, taking their sweet time to turn beautiful, bright shades of red, orange, or yellow and ripen to their full flavor. Local farmers often opt to sell only green peppers, because they can’t justify a crop that is in the ground for the entire growing season but only produces a marketable harvest for a tiny window of time.
As gardeners, we have the freedom to grow unprofitable crops, but it’s no less frustrating to grow peppers only to have them hitting peak production when the days are already getting shorter and fall crops are beginning to dominate the gardenscape. Every season, I try new varieties in my quest to find the best, early-maturing sweet peppers, but I still haven’t replaced one of my favorite (and old) varieties: Jimmy Nardello’s pepper.
This regional heirloom, named after the gardener who stewarded this variety for decades, was first brought from Italy to Connecticut in the late 1880s with the Nardello family. It is consistently one of the first sweet peppers to ripen, and it’s ridiculously productive, as well. It’s one of my garden staples, I've written about it before, and I look forward to growing it every year. You may imagine my delight, then, when I came across Jimmy Nardello peppers featured on a restaurant menu in February! I was so delighted, in fact, that I immediately picked up the phone and called the restaurant to learn what they were doing.
The restaurant is Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua, NY, and it turns out their Executive Chef, Jay Lippin, is all about sourcing locally-grown produce AND the best varieties.
I love Jimmy Nardello’s pepper because it’s easy to grow and extremely productive. I chatted with Chef Jay for at least an hour, and I learned that chefs love it because it has a great complex flavor and it’s easy to work with. Jay uses the peppers fresh in the summer, but because the fruits have relatively thin walls and dry flesh, he’s found it’s also perfect for cooking down into sauce. Jay’s method: At the end of the season, he takes the entire remaining harvest, roasts the peppers, and then freezes them. Throughout the winter, he uses the frozen peppers as the base for a delicious pepper sauce. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate local heirloom peppers in the menu throughout the winter months!
Crabtree’s Kittle House Rainbow Trout with Jimmy Nardello Pepper Sauce is a perfect example of a great farm-to-table winter meal. All the main ingredients are sourced from the Hudson Valley—farm names are listed front and center on the menu and are just as important as the ingredients themselves. Did I mention Jay meets with farmers before the start of the season to discuss varieties and place orders? He knows that farm-to-table depends not just on purchasing from local farms, but from working directly with farmers and building farmer-chef partnerships. Next time I’m in the area I’m looking forward to trying his dish with ‘Candy Roaster’ squash…another wonderful heirloom variety being revived by local farmers and featured on Jay’s menu.
If you can’t make it to Crabtree's Kittle House anytime soon, Jay was kind enough to share his recipe so you can try it at home. (But I recommend trying his version.) Even if you’ve already planned your garden, there’s still plenty of time to make some room...just a few Jimmy Nardello plants will produce all the peppers you need!
Jimmy Nardello Pepper Sauce
Jay Lippin, Executive Chef Crabtree's Kittle House Restaurant
3 Jimmy Nardello peppers, cut off flesh; roasted in oven until tender
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 shallot, sliced
Sauté in oil on top of the stove until caramelized
3 ounces red wine vinegar
6 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zest
1 teaspoon sweet-smoked paprika
salt & pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a blender; serve the sauce at room temperature.
It's that simple!