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What Is Pepperoncini?
Known as golden Greek peppers, Tuscan peppers, or sweet Italian peppers, pepperoncini (also “peperoncini”) is a variety of chili pepper, scientifically known as capsicum annuum, the spicy subset of the pepper family. They have thin skin that is yellow to light green in color and are only 2-3 inches long. While they can be eaten raw, they are most often served pickled.
Are Pepperoncini Spicy?
Peppers have a wide range of spiciness—from mild to mouth-burning. Capsaicin is the natural compound that delivers the spice in any pepper, like cayenne. Most likely a survival element for the plant, the amount of capsaicin determines how hot peppers are.
The Scoville scale is a unit of measurement (“Scoville Heat Unit” or SHU) that ranks the heat of peppers. Bell peppers have a Scoville score of zero. The habanero, once the hottest pepper, has 100,000 to 350,000 SHU. The Carolina Reaper is now ranked as the hottest chili pepper at 2.2 million SHU. For a sense of just how hot that is, it is 200 times stronger than a jalapeño. Pepperoncini peppers have 100-500 SHU. While they still create a slight tingle on the tongue when eaten, pepperoncini are milder than most other chili peppers.
How Are Pepperoncini Used in Cooking?
Though often mistaken for the similar-looking banana pepper and Hungarian wax pepper, pepperoncini have a more distinct taste. Pickled or raw, pepperoncini add a crunchy texture to food with a tangy, sweet, or vinegar taste. To reduce their mild heat, remove the seeds which contain most of the capsaicin in a pepper. Here are some popular ways pepperoncini are used in cuisine.
- As a condiment. Pickled pepperoncini are often used as condiments. They can be placed on sandwiches, burgers, or pizzas. They can even be cooked into a grilled cheese.
- On salads. Pepperoncini can be tossed with a salad either pickled or raw. They’re often found in Greek salads with cucumber, feta cheese, kalamata olives, red onion, and tomatoes. The juice from pickled pepperoncini pairs nicely with the garlic-infused vinaigrette.
- Cooked. Raw pepperoncini can be cooked like any other pepper: in the pan, in the oven, or in a slow cooker. The heat creates a smokier flavor in the peppers.
- As an edible garnish. Pepperoncini often show up in the most unexpected places. Bloody Marys are a popular brunch cocktail, with vodka and tomato juice. While they almost always have a celery stalk in them, many bloody marys also have pepperoncini hanging onto the rim of the glass as an edible garnish meant to be bitten between sips
How to Pickle Pepperoncini At Home
While pepperoncini are found pre-prepared, packed in liquids at most grocers, they can easily be prepared at home and added to your favorite meals.
- Slice a slit lengthwise in the pepperoncini to allow the pickling juices to soak into the peppers.
- Place the pepperoncini in a large mason jar with peeled garlic cloves. Add bay leaves and peppercorns if desired.
- Boil water, apple cider vinegar, salt, and sugar.
- Pour water mixture into jars, leaving an inch of room at the top.
- Let the jars sit in a dark, cool place in the kitchen for two weeks, or in the refrigerator for several days.
3 Easy Recipes Using Pepperoncini
Pepperoncini can be used in a variety of meals, and pair especially well with meat. Here are three easy recipes where pepperoncini add flavor and texture and complement the overall dish.
- Slow cooker beef with pepperoncini. In this hands-free dish, the pickled peppers add a tartness to the shredded beef. In a slow cooker put a chuck roast, chopped onion, pepperoncini with liquid from their jar, and beef or chicken broth. Sprinkle salt and Italian seasoning. For a richer taste and a more complex dish, add mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and apple cider vinegar. Cover and cook on the lowest setting for eight hours. When it’s done the meat will easily fall apart. Serve the beef and peppers alone or on a bun with melted cheese.
- Simple antipasto platter. Pepperoncini are a staple of this Mediterranean medley of meats and veggies. Sometimes tossed with a vinaigrette and served as a salad, antipasto ingredients are often laid out on big, family-style serving platters. On a platter, place rolled up slices of salami and prosciutto alongside tomato slices, cubed or slices of provolone cheese, mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms, and pepperoncini.
- Sausage and peppers. The balance between the smoky sausage and pepperoncini works well in this simple one-pan meal. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large, glass roasting pan. Add chopped onion and toss in the oil. Add pepperoncini sliced lengthwise, minus the seeds. For a little more crunch, add bell peppers, also sliced lengthwise. Their sweet flavor will balance out the smoky meat and slightly spicy pepperoncini. Stir the peppers around in the oil to coat them. Finally, place mild Italian pork sausages, pierced with a fork several times, on top of the onions. Cook at 400 F, turning the sausage when they’re brown on one side.
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