by David Layland

Napa Valley Register

Chile peppers can be a hot commodity literally and figuratively, but they also can be on the mild side. On a recent walk through the farmers market I discovered our farmers carry a delightful range of flavors and heat levels from red hot Serrano and Jalapeno chiles to mild green Gypsy, Jimmy Nardello, Padron and Shishito peppers.

The amount of heat for chiles such as Hungarian Wax and Anaheim (and also Serrano and Jalapeno) is dependent on color. If the chile is yellow or green it’s likely on the mild side but if the chile is a mature red color its likely packing a bit of heat.

The heat level can be controlled by including or excluding the seeds and ribs of any chile. If you want heat, then leave them in. If you want mild as possible, then take them out.

Chile peppers are versatile. They can be eaten raw, pickled, fried or sautéed, roasted, smoked or dried and ground.

Green Serrano and Jalapeno chiles are commonly used fresh in salsas or guacamole or pickled. If you want to kick it up a notch use red chiles. When jalapenos turn a dark red color they can be preserved by smoking and drying and then become chipotles.

Gypsy, Jimmy Nardello, Padron and Shisito peppers are delicious when served raw or sautéed in a bit of butter or olive oil. Gypsy peppers, whether lime green, red or reddish brown, are a nice addition to a salad. You can also throw a few slices on a pizza or stuff them with your favorite soft cheese and briefly broil them.

Jimmy Nardello’s are considered the perfect Italian pepper for frying. They can be chopped and sautéed in a bit of butter or olive oil and added to egg dishes, stir-fries or your basic tomato sauce for pasta. They really shine when simply split, seeds and stem removed and then quickly fried in olive oil until tender.

I’ve found Padron and Shishito peppers to be interchangeable as both are sweet and mild but every so often you will get one that is on the hot side. The most popular preparation is to sauté the peppers in a little olive oil until browned then sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt and serve as an appetizer. Recently, I had them served chilled in a salad with mixed greens and they were awesome.

My favorite chile pepper this time of year is Nu Mex Big Jim, which is also known as Anaheim. I first encountered these chiles on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to attend their Wine & Chile Fiesta. Wherever you drove in the Santa Fe area you would encounter Big Jims or one of the other Nu Mex varieties being roasted in an oblong stainless steel mesh drum hooked up to a propane tank. The roasters had several burners that would blast the chiles until scorched to the point the skin would practically fall off. The smell of roasting chiles is truly memorable and like nothing else you have ever smelled before.

Santa Fe is about 1,100 miles from Napa, which is too far to travel just to get roasted Big Jim chiles, so I purchased my own roaster some years ago. It is now a rite of fall to buy 50 pounds or so of Big Jim or Anaheim chiles, fire up the roaster and prepare a years’ worth of roasted chiles. I like to wrap the roasted chiles in plastic wrap and then place them in a 1 quart Zip-lock bag and freeze until needed.

Chiles have a wide range of flavors and heat levels so look at them as something fun and affordable that can spice up your life or at least your dinner tonight. If you want your very own chile roaster they can be found on the Internet for a few hundred dollars.

Green Chile Sauce

One of my favorite recipes to make this time of year is a simple Green Chile Sauce. It’s great on enchiladas, egg dishes or over grilled meats and roasted potatoes.

1 large white onion, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups roasted Nu Mex Big Jim or Anaheim chiles (seeds and stems removed)

2 cups coarsely chopped peeled and seeded tomatoes

2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican preferred)

Heat a heavy saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until softened. Stir in the garlic and sauté another minute. Add the flour and continue cooking for another minute or two. Add the remaining ingredients and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for about 15 minutes until thickened.

Serve immediately or you can refrigerate the sauce for about 5 days. The sauce can also be frozen.