Clouds and sun

Brined green peppercorns add bursts of heat

All peppercorns start out green, but few stay that way. If you were to pick a cluster of peppercorns — they grow on a vine and look like tiny clusters of cabernet sauvignon, but green — and put it in your pocket, in a day or two it would turn black. That's a peppercorn's natural progression. To keep peppercorns green or to make them white requires human intervention. (Pink peppercorns are not related to true pepper, and they are naturally pink.)

Keeping peppercorns green is trickier than making them white. For years, the only green peppercorns available in the United States were either brined or freeze-dried. The freeze-dried ones have a papery texture and a simple, one-dimensional flavor that I've never cared for. Brined green peppercorns are wonderful but they contribute tartness, too, which is not always what you want.

In the late 1990s, I visited pepper-processing facilities in Malaysia, where I found delicious air-dried green peppercorns. Unfortunately, they are not available in the United States, so I've used the 5 pounds or so that I brought home sparingly. Now, a relatively new online business, Pepper-Passion, has an air-dried green peppercorn from India. If you love peppercorns, you'll want to get some, which you can do at Pepper-Passion.com.

When it comes to brined green peppercorns, they are both readily available and hard to find. I'd always bought them at Traverso's; when I had to search elsewhere after the market closed, I was amazed at how difficult it was to locate them. Sometimes they're set next to pickles, sometimes alongside capers and sometimes with condiments like ketchup. I've never found them on spice shelves.

When I've asked for help, I've gotten nowhere. No one seems to know what they are. Yet pretty much every supermarket, from locally owned shops to national chains, has them. You just have to keep looking, especially on the highest shelves, which is where I've found them most often.

I enjoy green peppercorns in tapenade, risotto, Italian-style salsa verde, Indian-style chutney and with certain cheeses, especially farmer cheese, cottage cheese, feta and ricotta. Sometimes I use them in place of capers, as I love the burst of heat that explodes in my mouth when I bite into one.

This delicious ricotta is quite versatile. It can be spread on grilled bread, slathered on toast, tossed with hot pasta or served atop a ragout of spring vegetables. Use the best ricotta you can find and handle it gently, i.e., don't mix it too vigorously.

Ricotta with Lemon, Green Peppercorns and Chives

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