José Pizarro’s pepper recipe
Plus how-to-grow tips from Padstow Kitchen Garden
The great thing about peppers ( Capsicum) is that there are so many different varieties – there’s one for everyone. Once you’ve mastered growing one type you can grow any of the hundreds available.
Before you buy pepper seeds think about what you use them for in cooking. Do you need big ones for stuffing? Small, sweet ones for salads, mega-hot peppers for curry pastes? Or one of each?
Just one plant, if grown right, can produce kilos of fruit from mid-June right up to the end of October.
For best results I always grow my peppers in a polytunnel or greenhouse. However, you can grow them in a sunny spot outside. They will just be ready a bit later and you won’t get quite as many peppers.
If you have a propagator and are planning on growing your plants indoors, sow seeds in early February in good quality compost (I use John Innes seed compost) in either a small pot or cell trays. Lightly cover seeds with compost and try to keep the temperature around 18-21C.
Water regularly but don’t oversoak your compost. All peppers hate to be waterlogged.
After two weeks, seedlings should emerge. Make sure you keep a good temperature of 15-21C and once your plants reach about 4in (10cm) in height (about six weeks after germination) it’s time to transfer them into slightly larger pots with new, multipurpose compost. Grow them on until early May when they are ready to be moved into their final position.
If you are planting the young peppers directly into soil, make sure you incorporate some well rotted manure or compost beforehand. Lay a sheet of ground-cover membrane where you want your plants to go and cut holes in it 2ft (60cm) apart.
Dig planting holes through the cuts, position the plants, firm them in and water really well. I find that most chilli plants don’t need any support but you can use a cane or tie some string at the base of the plant and attach it to a supporting rail.
If you don’t fancy growing peppers in the ground you can just as easily use pots instead which have the advantage of being movable and warmer for the plants. However, they can dry out faster, so keep an eye on the watering.
As for feeding, treat peppers the same way as tomatoes. Use a regular tomato feed every few weeks or a home-made comfrey feed. Be careful not to overfeed, though, or you will affect the potency of your chillies.
By early June you should see lots of flowers and peppers forming on the plants. This is the time to look out for greenfly and other aphids on the young growing shoots. If you see any, try spraying with a weak washing-up liquid solution or an organic spray. I use professional grade Pyrethrum 5EC (from progreen.co.uk). If the problem continues, try growing onions and garlic nearby. Their strong scent is said to discourage aphids.
To harvest peppers, just pluck them from the plant carefully without breaking the plant. You can dry them by making a chilli ristra, a South American tradition that is also great for decoration. Make a large knot in one end of some fishing line and thread a needle on the other. Thread peppers on to the line through their stems. Turn them slightly each time to ensure they’re evenly spaced, then hang your ristra in a non-humid area.
Some like it hot: José Pizarro with a bowl of padrón peppers, a tapas favourite