I walked into an area supermarket last week and encountered a mountainous display of red and yellow bell peppers. Even though the store wasn't giving away the peppers at $1 apiece, the sale price was enough of a reduction to cause a minor grocery cart traffic jam near the store entrance.
Red and yellow bell peppers are usually individually priced from about $1.50 on up. For most of us, the thought of buying them in bulk rarely crosses our minds. Instead, we settle for a single yellow bell pepper to chop up to add a sweet dash to a salad, or we buy a couple of reds to broil and chop up for a smoky accent to a party dip or sandwich.
On this occasion, I bought half a dozen, with a specific purpose in mind. These were tall and straight, thick-walled peppers approaching the size of a woman's shoe. In other words, they were perfect for stuffing.
The stuffed bell pepper may be something of an artifact. It certainly was ensconced in the repertoire of 1960s family meals - back in the day when mothers prepared casseroles for dinner instead of microwaving frozen entrees. The stuffed bell pepper may have developed a bad rep by keeping company with the tuna casserole, but it easily can be updated, particularly if you have red and yellow bells available.
One of the best stuffed bell pepper recipes I have found is in Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff's "Recipes from a Kitchen Garden." This particular take on the stuffed bell pepper calls for using sausage instead of the customary hamburger. The fact of the matter is that you can put anything you want into the pepper. This particular meal is begging to be customized by the individual cook.
This recipe calls for using rice as a starch filler, which is reminiscent of the stuffed peppers of my youth. Personally, I always have been a bit perplexed by that. When it comes down to it, there isn't a lot of room inside a pepper, even a large one. I'd rather devote the space to meat, tomato, chopped pepper and onion.
I always end up with a bunch of leftover rice anyway, so I leave it out of the pepper. A good compromise is to make Spanish rice as a side dish.
Stuffed Peppers Santa Cruz Style
4 large green, red or yellow bell peppers
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup long-grain rice
2 mild Italian sausages, casings removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
1 Anaheim chile, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped (or 1 can "California" mild green chile)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove core and seeds. Cook in boiling salted water for 3 minutes to blanch. Remove from pan and turn upside down to drain.
Bring 2 1/2 cups of the chicken stock to a boil (reserving remaining 1/2 cup), add rice, cover tightly and simmer for 20 minutes.
In large skillet, break up sausage into small pieces. Saute lightly until browned. Remove sausage and place on paper towels to drain.
Heat olive oil in skillet. Add onion, red pepper and sun-dried tomatoes, if used, and saute until onion is translucent. Stir in rice, sausage, chile, celery seed, lemon juice, cilantro and reserved 1/2 cup of chicken stock. Cook until thoroughly heated and liquid is absorbed. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff peppers with mixture. Arrange them side by side in a baking dish. Sprinkle tops with Parmesan cheese. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water around peppers. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.