Velvety, tart mixed peppers and tangy, sweet onions make an irresistible combination that's every bit as scrumptious whether you serve it on a toasted roll, over fresh, hot pasta or all by itself. Sauteing peppers and onions lightly browns the outsides, bringing out their full flavor. Serve them slightly crisp, or caramelize them for a softer texture and richer taste.
Mix and match peppers and onions to your heart's content, but start with the freshest ones you can find. Mixed red, yellow, green and orange bell peppers give you a gentle spicy bite that's beautifully complemented by yellow or white onions. Get fancy with mini peppers in different colors and combine them with shallots or leeks. Garlic brings out the flavors of both peppers and onions, especially if you let all the vegetables cook over low heat long enough to caramelize them, which brings out their natural sugars too.
Wash your peppers thoroughly, and remove the stems and seeds. Cut them in rings to be served over pasta or in long strips if they'll be served on rolls. Peel the onions, and slice or chop them. Keep the sizes of the pepper and onion pieces consistent so they'll cook evenly, and tailor their size to the dish. Pepper and onion rings or strips are easier to manage on sandwiches, while those destined to be added to pasta, egg dishes, casseroles and other fork foods should be cut into smaller pieces or even chopped.
Heat your saute pan over medium heat. True saute pans have curved sides, not straight vertical ones. If all you have is a straight-sided sauce pan, you can improvise. Add just enough oil to the hot pan to line the bottom. Olive oil adds flavor, but canola or vegetable oil also work. Don't add too much; you only need enough to keep the vegetables from sticking. Heat the oil until its surface begins to shimmer. This only takes a few seconds in a hot pan. Add the onions and peppers, and lift the pan from the stove by its handle, using a handle protector if it isn't heatproof. Jerk the pan sharply back toward your body a bit, making the vegetables jump and turn. This cooks them quickly while allowing them to keep their shapes. If you don't have a saute pan or are nervous about jerking a pan of hot oil and vegetables, use a spatula to turn them. This isn't technically true sauteing, but still gives you killer peppers and onions. Season the vegetables with salt, pepper, and the herbs and spices most suited to your dish. Cook the vegetables for 2 to 3 minutes or until they're tender but still slightly crisp.
Sauteed peppers and onions are delicious on their own as a colorful side dish. Add shrimp or sliced chicken, pork or beef, and season with cumin, thyme, oregano and chili powder for fajitas; add sausage, tomatoes and a splash of red wine for sausage and peppers. Chopped peppers and onions are a tasty addition to scrambled eggs, omelets and breakfast burritos. You can also add canned tomatoes and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese for a quick, fresh pasta topping.