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Spice up your summer dishes with a burst of bold color

In the summertime, everything is brighter, from the sun and the sky to your new T-shirts and strappy sandals. So really, it only makes sense to bring some of that color into your kitchen with some of the most vibrant vegetables the market has to offer - bell peppers.

Not only do these vegetables come in green, red, orange and yellow varieties, but they're also an excellent source of vitamin C. For example, a half-cup serving of a green pepper contains more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, while an equal amount of red pepper offers 236 percent of recommended vitamin C.

As bell peppers age, their flavors become more mild and sweet. In fact, the sweeter red bell peppers are actually just mature versions of green bell peppers.

When selecting bell peppers, look for firm skin without any wrinkles and a stem that looks fresh and green. The pepper should feel heavy for its size. Avoid the ones with black spots, scratches or sunken areas.

Once you've picked the perfect peppers, be sure to try at least one of these recipes, whether it's the stuffed peppers or Southwest vegetable bean burritos.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

This savory-sweet soup can be served hot or cold.

3 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)

1 small potato, quartered

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (1 to 11⁄2 teaspoons)

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or thyme or 1⁄2 tablespoon dried, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon tomato paste

4 large red bell peppers, roasted, skinned and chopped

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups vegetable or chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

croutons (optional)

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium high heat. Add the onion, potato, garlic, bay leaf and herbs; saute until potato and onion begin to brown, eight to 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute. Add the roasted peppers, paprika and 1 teaspoon salt; cook for 30 seconds.

Pour in stock or water and scrape up any of the flavorful caramelized pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle simmer, cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender or food processor or run it through a food mill. Return it to the pot and heat until warmed through. Add the balsamic vinegar and a few grindings of fresh black pepper. Taste, add salt if so desired.

Garnish each serving with some Parmesan, a little fresh herb and croutons if desired.

Source: "Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables" by Farmer John Peterson and Angelic Organics (Gibbs-Smith, $29.95)

Southwestern Vegetable and Bean Burritos

This recipe calls for both red and yellow bell peppers, which are both good sources of vitamin C.

1⁄4 cup olive oil

1⁄2 cup red bell peppers, seeded and diced

1⁄2 cup yellow bell peppers, seeded and diced

1⁄2 cup plum tomatoes, cored and diced

1⁄2 cup fresh cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

1⁄2 teaspoon medium chili powder

1⁄8 teaspoon cumin

1⁄8 teaspoon oregano

11⁄2 cups cooked pinto beans

11⁄2 cups shredded soy Monterey jack cheese or Monterey jack cheese

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

8 10-inch spelt, whole-wheat or other tortillas

Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano. Saute until the vegetables are tender, five to seven minutes. Add the beans, 1⁄2 cup of the cheese and the salt and stir to combine.

Heat tortillas, one at a time, in a dry skillet over medium heat, turning them frequently until softened, about three minutes total.

Place a tortilla on a flat work surface and spread 1⁄4 cup of the bean mixture down the center, leaving a 1-inch border at the top and bottom. Sprinkle with two tablespoons of the remaining cheese. Fold the top and bottom edges over the mixture and roll up from one side. Carefully transfer the burrito to a baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat this process with the remaining tortillas and filling. Transfer the burritos to the oven to warm through, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: "The Imus Ranch: Cooking for Kids and Cowboys" by Deidre Imus (Rodale, $18.95)

Stuffed Bell Peppers

Make this dish prettier by using red, orange and yellow bell peppers together.

For filling:

3 tablespoons olive oil

11⁄2 medium onions

3 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry and finely chopped

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons toasted bread crumbs (recipe below)

11⁄2 cups whole-milk ricotta

1⁄2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed, patted dry and chopped

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

41⁄2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For Peppers:

4 small red, yellow and/or orange bell peppers (11⁄2 pounds total)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Make the filling: Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat. Add onions and anchovies and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are golden, about 8 minutes (anchovies will dissolve). Transfer to a bowl and stir in bread crumbs, cheeses, capers, eggs and parsley until well combined.

Stuff and bake the peppers: Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 350 F. Oil a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Halve peppers lengthwise through stems and discard seeds and ribs. Stuff pepper halves with filling and arrange in baking dish. Add 1⁄2 cup water to dish and drizzle peppers with oil.

Bake, uncovered, until peppers are tender and filling is puffed, 50 to 60

minutes.

Note: The peppers can be stuffed up to one day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Makes eight servings.

Source: "The Gourmet Cookbook," edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin, $40)

Toasted Bread Crumbs

3 cups fine fresh bread crumbs from a baguette or Italian loaf

1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive

Salt

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.

Spread crumbs in a shallow baking pan and bake, stirring occasionally until golden, 10 or 15 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a bowl, drizzle with oil and stir until crumbs are cool. Season with salt to taste.

Source: "The Gourmet Cookbook," edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin, $40)