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Recipe: Spicy Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

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I came up with this dish one day when I was planning to make these Italian stuffed peppers and discovered that I didn't, in fact, have any leftover Italian sausage. I did, however, have lots of mushrooms. It turned out that with a little extra spice, the meatless version was quite tasty. When picking out the peppers for this recipe, try to get peppers with even bottoms, so they’ll stand up without wobbling.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 large bell peppers, red or green
  • Olive oil
  • 8 ounces white button or cremini mushrooms
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/3 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced (or use 1/3 cup drained canned petite diced tomatoes)
  • 1 cup cooked rice (about 1/4 cup raw)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 2/3 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. With a paring knife, cut through the ribs on the inside of the peppers and pull out the core. Using the knife and 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 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. While the peppers are blanching, 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. Set aside.

4.Wash the mushrooms thoroughly. One easy way to do this is to place them in a strainer or colander that fits into a large bowl. Place the colander in the bowl and fill it with water. Swish the mushrooms around until they're clean and then lift the colander out of the water.

5. Trim off any hard or discolored stems and chop the mushrooms very roughly. Pile the mushrooms into a small saute pan; they should be very crowded. Add enough water just to cover the mushrooms and pour in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Salt generously (about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt) and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat so that the water continues to boil vigorously. Cook until the water has evaporated completely and the mushrooms begin to sizzle in the oil. (For an explanation of this cooking method, see this article.)

6. Stir the mushrooms in the olive oil until they've begun to brown. Add the red pepper flakes, black pepper, fennel seed and minced garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant.

7. Add the onion, fennel and diced pepper to the mushroom mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and have begun to brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Pour in the red wine and cook until the wine has mostly evaporated, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

8. Pour the vegetables into a medium bowl and let cool for 5 minutes or so. Add the tomato, rice and egg and stir to combine.

9. Gently stir in the basil, 1/2 cup of the mozzarella and about half of the parmigiano, reserving the rest of the cheese for the tops of the peppers.

10. 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.

11. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 375F.

12. 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.)

13. 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. Let cool slightly before serving.

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