Unlike the typical 9 to 5 job, I work 4-10 hour days. The days are undeniably long, but a weekly 3-day weekend more than makes up for my intense workweek. It’s like a weekly mini-vacation. My favorite part of my three-day weekend is Sunday. Not working on Mondays, Sunday has been transformed from a somber, stressful affair, focused on preparing for the workweek, into a relaxing and delightful day. I spend most of my Sunday evenings hunkered down at a good friend’s house in Denver, sipping vodka, eating antipasto, and verbally dissecting the world at large. Our Sunday meal is typically low maintenance; however, this Sunday, my friend expressed a hankering for stuffed peppers, which I have never made before, and I quickly accepted the challenge, and the change of pace.
When I went to the store, red bell peppers just happened to be on sale, and the whole scenario seemed meant to be. I went with an Italian theme for the peppers. I didn’t grow up eating them, so I wasn’t exactly sure what the traditional flavor profile would be, so I chose the direction I know and love best: Italian. I used ground beef, sausage, rice, tomatoes, basil, onions, garlic, pesto, and, of course, cheese. I chose a combination of ground beef and sausage because I felt that sausage exclusively would be too fatty and rich; a lot of pasta sauces have both in them, so why not my stuffed peppers? It turned out lovely, but I will warn you to make sure your stuffing is well seasoned. The stuffing seasons the actual pepper, in addition to the filling, so over-seasoning a tad is wise. I used diced tomatoes and a can of sauce for tomato products, but a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste added to the beef and onions would work well; despite the double hit of tomato, a little more would have brought warmly welcomed depth of flavor. Cheese, glorious cheese, was naturally a pivotal ingredient, and it renders the pepper filling a complete dish in and of itself (we gleefully ate spoonfuls from the pan). The peppers are stuffed, put in a baking dish with a touch of chicken broth (white wine would also be nice), and sealed with foil before baking. When they are just about done, they are blanketed in cheese, and broiled. I chose a combination of mozzarella and asiago, but a sticking solely with a young asiago would be lip-smacking good. Pick your poison.
1/2 lb. ground sirloin
1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage
1 cup rice
2 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups shredded cheese (such as mozzarella, asiago, parmesan, or a combination)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
6-ounce can of tomato sauce
1/2 cup good quality pesto
1/4 cup basil chiffonade
4-6 bell peppers
Salt, pepper, red chile flakes, oregano
– Preheat oven to 375 degrees
– Prepare rice by adding it to 2 cups of simmering chicken stock. Cover and simmer for 15-20, lifting lid as little as possible. Set aside when finished.
– Prepare peppers by cutting of the top, and removing seeds and large ribs. Set aside in a 9×13 inch baking dish.
– Preheat a large skillet over medium heat with oil. Add ground beef and sausage, breaking up chunks with a wooden spoon or spatula.
– When meat is broken up and beginning to brown, drain excess fat. Then add onion and minced garlic. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and red chile flakes (about 1/2 teaspoon of each, maybe more salt, and little less hot pepper flakes). Cook until onion and meat is cooked through, stirring occasionally.
– Add rice, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce (if you want it more tomato-y in flavor, add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste with the onions). Stir to combine, taste, and re-season.
– Turn off heat and add basil, pesto, and 1/2 the cheese.
– Fill each of the peppers until heaping with rice and tomato mixture. This recipe makes enough for about 6 medium-sized peppers, and the rice mixture also is very tasty on its own.
– Place filled peppers, standing up, in the baking dish, and add remaining chicken broth (or better yet, white wine). Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
– Bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove peppers from the oven, and turn on the broiler. Put remaining cheese on each pepper, then place under the broiler until browned and bubbling.
March 12, 2014