There was a time not long ago when the sweet green pepper, known as the bell pepper, was the only pepper used universally by American cooks. Red peppers were available at times and used in certain dishes. Thinner, yellow peppers were grown in home gardens. But the green pepper was the most familiar, most popular, and most available in supermarkets. Today there's a much wider selection. Bell peppers of many different colors have been showing up in markets in recent months.
Bright yellow peppers in the same shape as the favorite green bells are beautiful to look at and are sweet and super large. They come from the farmlands of Holland, as do the giant-size, bright red ones that have been available for the past year or so.
But the two newest peppers come in the most unusual colors -- white and dark purple.
The deep purple pepper is a kind of eggplant color that's also known as chocolate or purple-black. It is sweet and has the same shape as the other bells.
The new white pepper is a sort of creamy yellow-white, a bit pointed, somewhat like a chili pepper, rather than the conventional bell shape.
The larger red and yellow peppers were relatively unknown in the United States as little as two years ago and were imported mostly from the Netherlands at first. But last summer the yellow ones appeared in some local farmers' markets. And now more red ones are coming from growers across the US.
The red and yellow peppers make an especially colorful platter when mixed together -- in a sweet pepper salad with oil and garlic, for example, or in a red and yellow pepper sauce for spaghetti.
The price for the huge peppers is fairly high, but it varies in different markets. Generally, they're expensive, but so far people appear willing to pay extra for them. All of them are selling, grocers say, but the red bells outsell the other colors 3 to 1.
Another new pepper called Mexi-bell looks like a green bell pepper but has a zippy bite to it. It's good for Mexican recipes that need a hot taste, but nothing too fiery.
From Holland comes a thin, long hot red pepper that has a sweet bell pepper shape and a 4-inch solid-looking, much milder green pepper. They are both hot, according to Judy Greening of Frieda's Finest, a produce company in Los Angeles.
The following recipe is from ``The Pantry Gourmet'' by Jane Doerfer. Ms. Doerfer suggests making the peppers by the jar to have on hand to serve garnished with anchovies and capers or with a vinaigrette sauce. The rich, smoky flavor whets the appetite and the mixture of colors makes a handsome dish. Sweet Peppers in Oil 5 large sweet red and yellow peppers Olive oil
Preheat broiler. Place peppers in a single layer in broiler pan and set on rack closest to broiler. Once skins are charred on one side, in 2 to 3 minutes, turn the peppers. Turn until all skins are blistered.
Immediately place peppers in a paper bag, close it, and let them sit 15 minutes to loosen skins.
Peel under running cold water. Remove stems and seeds. Dry and cut into 1-inch-wide strips.
Layer peppers in a jar with the oil, leaving at least l/2 inch of oil above peppers. Store in refrigerator. They will keep up to 4 weeks. Serve at room temperature. Makes 1 pint.