Originating in South America at least 7000 years ago, capsicums were introduced to the rest of the world by Christopher Columbus and other explorers.
Capsicums are part of the Solanaceae family, which includes tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes, and are closely related to chillies. They come in a variety of colours, from green and purple to red, orange and yellow. All capsicums start out green and colour as they ripen, becoming sweeter and more nutritious (red ones are sweetest). All varieties can be eaten raw and become sweeter with cooking.
All year round but best from November to June. buying: Capsicums should be heavy for their size and firm, shiny and smooth in appearance. Avoid ones that are wrinkled or blemished.
Refrigerate unwashed for five to seven days.
To use raw, cut in half, remove the seeds and membrane, and slice or dice. To peel, roast whole or in sections (removing seeds and membrane first) in a 220oC oven until skin is blackened and blistered (about 20 minutes), then place in a plastic bag and seal. When cool enough to handle, skin should come away easily.
A nutrient-dense vegetable, capsicum is an excellent source of beta-carotene and vitamin C. It’s also a good source of vitamins B1, B6 and K and folic acid, as well as a number of antioxidants including zeaxanthin (which can help prevent age-related macular degeneration). Red capsicums contain lycopene (said to protect against heart disease and some cancers including prostate).
Peperonata is a great side dish for roast meats and grilled fish, or a lovely pasta sauce – just add some black olives and crumbled feta or ricotta.