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Recipe: Italian-Style Stuffed Peppers

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Stuffed peppers
Dave Scantland
When I was growing up, my Mom made stuffed peppers (always green) with a filling that was similar to an individual meatloaf, brushed with a tomato-based glaze. In my college dining hall, the stuffed peppers were filled with rice and beef (mostly rice), baked in tomato sauce and smothered in cheese. Neither version was particularly compelling. We developed this recipe for a vegetable class we were teaching, and it's now the only kind I make (or the vegetarian version). This recipe does take some time to make, but much of the work can be done in advance, and the finished peppers can be frozen, so it makes sense to double the recipe and freeze two.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 large bell peppers (red, yellow or green)
  • Kosher salt
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, diced (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/3 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 pound hot or mild Italian sausage (one large link)
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced (or use 1/3 cup drained canned petite diced tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup cooked mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup cooked rice (about 3 tablespoons raw)
  • 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano or other grana cheese, divided

Preparation:

1. Slice about 1/4 to 1/2 inch off the top of each pepper, setting the tops aside (you'll use them later -- don't throw them away!) With a paring knife, cut through the ribs on the inside of the peppers and pull out the core. Using the knife, a grapefruit spoon or your fingers, remove as much of the ribs as possible, leaving a hollow shell. (For smaller servings, or if your peppers won't stand up, cut the peppers in half through the stem and remove the stem, ribs and seeds, leaving as much of the pepper intact as possible.)

2. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon fine salt per quart of water). Plunge the peppers in the water, making sure to submerge them. Boil for 4 minutes, then remove. Drain upside down on a rack and set aside. The peppers should still be firm, but slightly pliable.

3.  Preheat the oven to 375F.

4. Take the reserved pepper tops and cut the flesh away from the stem. Trim off any white pithy bits from the inside, and dice the flesh. You should have 1/3 to 1/2 cup. (If you cut your peppers in half back in the first step, you won't have anything to dice. You can either dice a quarter of an extra pepper, if you have one, or chop a roasted red pepper from a jar, if you have one, or you can just leave out the pepper entirely.)

5. Coat the bottom of a medium sized skillet with olive oil. Place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, peppers and fennel. Salt lightly and sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are softened and they're starting to look transparent. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two longer. Place the vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

6. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the skillet. Over medium heat, brown the sausage, breaking up the meat into small pieces. Cook until the pieces are no longer pink inside. Remove the sausage from the skillet and add to the vegetables in the bowl. Drain off any accumulated oil from the pan, and pour in the wine, stirring and scraping up any browned bits. Boil until all but a tablespoon or so of the wine has evaporated and add it to the sausage and vegetables.

7. Add the diced tomatoes, mushrooms and rice to the bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in 1/3 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 2 tablespoons of the parmigiano, reserving the rest of the cheese to top the peppers. Taste and add salt and black pepper if necessary. 

8. Using a medium sized scoop or spoon, fill the pepper shells with the stuffing mixture, packing it into the peppers firmly and mounding it up over the top edges of the shells. Top with reserved cheese. The peppers can be made and refrigerated up to overnight.

9. Place the filled peppers in a shallow baking dish (close together but not touching). Cover the dish with aluminum foil, trying not to rest the foil on the tops of the peppers. (An easy way to do this is to place the whole dish on a very large piece of foil, bring the foil up over the dish and crimp the edges together to form a tent over the entire dish.)

10. Bake the peppers, covered, for 25 minutes. Remove the foil (or just open the top of the packet and pull it away from the peppers) and bake an additional 15 minutes, until cheese on top has browned.

Notes:

  • The filling for these stuffed peppers is rather loose; if you prefer a more cohesive filling, add one beaten egg to the filling before stuffing the peppers at step 7.
  • If you want to make extra peppers to freeze, prepare up to step 10. Bake for the first 25 minutes, then remove from the oven and let cool. Place on a plate or small cookie sheet and freeze uncovered. When frozen, wrap in foil. Thaw, then bake uncovered at 375F for about 20 minutes, or until warm through and browned on top. 
  • Green bell peppers have a bolder flavor; red (or yellow) peppers are more delicate, sweet and mild. I like them both. Try to get peppers with even bottoms, so they’ll stand up without wobbling too much. Parboiling the peppers ensures that they're tender by the time the filling is done. 

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