Just add pepper: Skye Gyngell gets a sweet, vibrant kick from the versatile summer vegetable

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Vibrant and strong, sweet peppers are warm-weather vegetables that, along with aubergines and courgettes, are a staple of summer eating. At work we use them all through the season, pairing them with everything from chicken and fish to chickpeas and lamb.

As opposed to chilli peppers, sweet peppers tend to be large, with a thicker, mild-tasting flesh. Rich in vitamin C, they are as good for you as they are delicious.

These large, mature peppers taste best when roasted and peeled, as cooking enhances their sweetness and warmth. Just place them under a hot grill until their skin blisters, turning to ensure they blacken evenly. Remove from the grill, place in a bowl and cover with cling-film. Once cool, the skin will come off easily.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Red pepper purée

Laced with spices, this is warm, sweet and zingy. Make more than you need, as it is addictive and keeps well in the fridge.

Serves 4-6

4 red peppers
15 small tomatoes
1tsp dried mint
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 bunch of coriander
1 red chilli, whole
40ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
2tbsp red wine vinegar
A good pinch of salt

For the spice mix

1tsp cumin seeds
1tsp fennel seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
3 cardamom pods

Start with the spice mix. Toast the spices in a pan on a low heat until the seeds pop. Remove and grind in a pestle and mortar.

Now preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas6. Quarter the peppers and remove the seeds and pith. Place in a baking tray along with the tomatoes, mint, garlic, coriander, chilli, vinegar and oil. Season with salt and scatter over the spice mix.

Cover tightly with foil and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Cook for 35-40 minutes or until the peppers are soft. Remove and take off the foil. Allow to cool slightly then scoop the whole lot into a food processor and blend until smooth. It will more than likely need a further pinch of salt to bring out the flavour.

Salad of chorizo and red peppers with black olives

Serves 4

4 chorizo sausages
2 red peppers, deseeded and roasted
12-15 black olives
A few Padrón peppers (optional)

For the dressing

2 anchovies
1 organic free-range egg yolk
2tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, peeled
The juice of half a lemon
A good pinch of sea salt and black pepper
100ml/31/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

For the dressing, place all the ingredients bar the oil in a Magimix and turn on. Pour in the oil slowly until you have a creamy dressing. Now slice the chorizo in half. Place under a hot grill for three minutes on each side. Arrange on a plate with the peppers (and Padrón peppers, if using) and olives. Drizzle dressing over and serve. '

Chicken with saffron, fennel and red-pepper rouille

Similar to a bouillabaisse but using chicken instead of fish, this is one of my favourite things to eat at this time of year.

Serves 4-6

11/2tbsp olive oil
1 chicken, cut into eighths
1 red onion, peeled and finely sliced
4 fresh bay leaves
5 sprigs of thyme
30 saffron threads
2 fennel bulbs, tougher outer leaves removed and cut into eighths
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
250ml/8fl oz white wine
The peel of one orange
500g/1lb chopped ripe tomatoes, seeds removed
2tbsp Pernod
Sea salt and black pepper

For the rouille

3 organic free-range eggs
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 red pepper, roasted, skin and seeds removed
1 slice of chewy, peasant-style stalk bread, softened with a little warm water
2tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 dried red chilli
Sea salt
220ml/71/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

Start by making the rouille. Place the egg yolks, garlic, red pepper, bread, vinegar, chilli and a good pinch of salt into a Magimix. Turn on, and pour the oil in through the funnel as slowly as possible. When finished, you should have a thick, orangey-coloured mayonnaise. Set aside.

For the chicken, season all over with salt and pepper. Place a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Pour in the oil and, when hot, lay the chicken in the pan skin-side down and brown well. Turn and do the same on the other side. This will take a good five minutes. Remove the chicken and pour off any fat from the pan. Add the onion, bay leaves and thyme and cook gently for 10 minutes then add the saffron, fennel and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then add the wine and orange peel. Turn up the heat slightly so the wine bubbles and boils, add the tomatoes and return the chicken to the pan. Cover and cook for 25 minutes. Finally, add the Pernod, sea salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve in soup dishes with a dollop of rouille on the top.

Pan-fried scallops with peppers and chard

Serves 4

2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
20 small, ripe tomatoes
1 small bunch of marjoram, leaves only
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp red-wine vinegar
30m/1fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
20 hand-dried scallops
The juice of half a lemon

For the chard

1 bunch of chard
40ml/11/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
Sea salt and black pepper

Slice the peppers in half lengthwise, then scoop out the seeds and pith and slice each half into four pieces. Lay in a baking tray. Squash the tomatoes slightly between your fingers so they release their juice when they cook, and scatter them over the peppers. Add the marjoram, salt and pepper. Pour over the vinegar and oil and toss together with your hands. Heat the oven to 200C/400f/Gas6 and cover the baking tray tightly with foil. When the oven is hot, place the tray on the middle shelf and roast for 35-40 minutes until the peppers are soft and aromatic. Remove and allow to cool.

For the chard, boil a large pot of well-salted water. Remove the leaves from their stalks and chop the stalks into half-inch-thick slices. Plunge the stalks into the boiling water and cook for two minutes. Add the leaves and cook for a further minute. Drain and dress while warm with the oil and lemon, salt and pepper. Set aside while you cook the scallops.

Heat a large non-stick pan over a high heat. Season the scallops generously. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. When the oil is almost smoking, add the scallops and cook for one minute. Turn and cook for 30 seconds on the underside. Squeeze over the lemon juice. Arrange the peppers and chard on a plate and lay the scallops on top. Serve immediately.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on the best places for a range of pepper produce...

Little Green Men sells Padrón peppers, grown in north-west England, fresh and as plants. It also sells a bountiful range of peppers and chillis as plants grown to order. www.littlegreenmen.co.uk

Dry River Horticulture, based in West Sussex, grows a wide variety of pepper plants for patios, borders, indoors and greenhouses. www.dryriverchillies.co.uk

The Wooden Spoon Preserving Company makes a perfectly balanced, piquant yet sweet red-pepper jelly. www.thewoodenspoon.co.uk

Patriana Fine Foods sells the powder, paste and purée of the Basque region's unique piment d'Espelette, grown by only 60 producers. www.patriana.co.uk

Ethnic markets such as London's Queen's Market, Upton Road (E13) are a vital and vibrant source of peppers and chillies. Queen's Market is one of the country's most ethnically diverse, providing the local African, African-Caribbean and Asian communities with a diverse range of foods. Sadly, it is under threat from developers. For details, go to www.friendsofqueensmarket.org.uk

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