Since You Asked: Pimiento is really just a pepper

I have a recipe for Eggplant Relish from a 1975 issue of Gourmet magazine that calls for five pimientos. I've only ever seen pimiento stuffed into green olives, but the recipe verbiage makes me think this ingredient would be much larger than an olive could accommodate. Am I missing something?

— Margot H., Medford

In this country, the term pimiento means "red peppers that are cooked, peeled and packaged in jars or cans," according to "Tapas," by Penelope Casas (Knopf, $30).

The word itself, Casas writes, "is nothing more than the Spanish word for peppers." Once pimientos are dried, smoked and ground, they become "pimenton," or Spanish paprika.

Also spelled "pimento," this heart-shaped, red, sweet pepper is a member of the Capsicum annuum family, which also includes bell peppers and chilies. The flesh of a pimiento is said to be much sweeter, though, than a bell pepper's.

The fruit itself measures about 3 to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide at the widest part, according to most culinary resources. But some sources also call them cherry peppers, which are smaller and plumper. So clearly not all peppers classified as pimiento are the same variety.

Most grocery stores stock small — about 4-ounce — jars of diced pimiento. Those pieces in green olives have been roasted and skinned, a process similar to roasting red bell peppers.

So because your recipe does seem written for larger, jarred pimiento peppers, you could substitute jarred, roasted red peppers.

Incidentally, "pimento" also is the name of the tree that allspice comes from, according to "The Food Lover's Companion," by Sharon Tyler Herbst (Barron's, $12.95).

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