Tame banana peppers and sweet piquante peppers pack a flavor punch
When it comes to pizza toppings, peppers always add a punch — especially pickled peppers. If you’re looking for a pepper that is mild, while still delivering a lot of flavor, you really can’t go wrong with banana peppers or sweet piquante peppers. They are great for adding complexity to a pizza and cutting through salty meats and cheeses. Both are widely available and if you don’t have the time or labor to make your own pickled version, there are some solid options out there to order. While both have similarities, there are definite differences too.
Banana peppers, also known as the banana chili or a yellow wax pepper, are bright yellow with a mild, tangy taste. As they ripen, they can change to orange, red or green. Regardless of the color, their spice level always remains pretty tame, ranging from 0-500 Scoville units.
Banana peppers are often confused with pepperoncinis, but they are not the same pepper. Pepperoncinis are typically slightly hotter, tangier and have a more wrinkled skin as opposed to the banana pepper’s smooth skin. If you’re looking to buy them fresh, banana peppers are the way to go as they are more widely available and better for stuffing.
Sweet piquante peppers on the other hand, are small, rounder and usually red resembling a cherry
tomato. Also called Juanita peppers, they originated in South Africa. They are known more for their sweetness than heat but still clock in at 1000-2000 units on the Scoville scale. A pepper that I am currently loving is called a Sweety Drop. It is very similar to a sweet piquante pepper in both color and taste, but it comes from Peru and is the size of a small grape tomato. Since they are so little, you don’t need to cut them (which not only saves on labor, but the juices from the pepper and pickling act like a flavor bomb on a pizza).
Both banana and sweet piquante peppers are great as pizza toppings. So how do you choose one over the other? It depends on the flavor profile you want and how you choose to use them. One thing to keep in mind is where else you are using the peppers on your menu. Both can be used on sandwiches, salads and in dips. Sweet piquante peppers lend themselves better to pestos and are great stuffed with soft cheeses as appetizers. Whereas banana peppers can be used in sauces and dressings.
We make a veggie sandwich with pesto, sweet onions, Brussels sprouts, melted mozzarella and top it with fresh arugula and sweety drops (you can easily sub out sweet piquante peppers). It’s easy to put together and we use all of the ingredients on our specialty pizzas so they are already ready to go. Another popular sandwich to put the peppers to good use is on an Italian sub.
Either pepper lends a great flavor, texture and spice. If you’re looking to add these peppers to your appetizer list, simply stuff sweet piquante peppers with goat cheese, wrap them in prosciutto and drizzle with aged balsamic and basil leaves. Blending sweet piquante peppers with a creamy ricotta and drizzling with extra virgin olive oil is a perfect dip for day-old bread that can be sliced thin and toasted for a starter.
As a pizza topping, I prefer sweet piquante peppers uncooked, added after the pizza comes out of the oven. I think that they maintain their sweet, pungent flavor better and keep a nice crispness. It’s a welcome burst of flavor and can accompany bitter arugula or cut through a decadent burrata.
With their assertive flavor, banana peppers hold up better to being added pre-bake. They mix well being melted into salty cheeses like feta, goat or cheddar. Here are a few pizza combos to get you started:
- Banana peppers, feta, Kalamata olives, artichokes, mozzarella, pesto.
- Banana peppers, salami, sauce, mozzarella, basil, Parmesan.
- Banana peppers, meatballs, ricotta, sauce.
- Sweet piquante peppers, mushrooms, spinach, roasted sweet onions, pesto.
- Sweet piquante peppers, prosciutto, arugula, mozzarella, Parmesan.
- Sweet piquante peppers, fried (or roasted!) eggplant, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella, basil.
While banana peppers have always been a mainstay on pizzeria menus, sweet piquante peppers have gained popularity over the last 15 years. Some of my favorite pizzas I’ve seen recently have these pickled beauties. Ines Glaser of Lupa Cotta in LA recently created a salad pizza detox series and featured a pie with pepperoncini, Capicola, iceberg lettuce, ricotta and Italian American salad dressing. Her pizzas always look fantastic but this one in particular caught my eye. It looked like the perfect pie to elevate any residual winter blues.
Whether you are looking to add a pickled pepper to your menu or just need some fresh ideas of how to use them, there are tons of ways to go. You can make them the star of the show or just use them for a splash of freshness.
Sweet Italian Pizza
Get the Sweet Italian Pizza recipe.
Audrey Kelly owns Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, Colorado.