Seasonal Chef: Stuff it baby!

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Growing up I was not a big fan of peppers. Back in the day the only variety were green bells and generally my mother was stuffing them for my Dad – who was (and still is) a big fan. They seemed too strong and acidic for my taste. Because of that I pretty much stayed away from peppers for most of my adult life. It really wasn’t until I met Larry, also a stuffed bell pepper fan, that I decided to give them another try. Silly me for not rethinking all of this much sooner! I’m still not crazy about the green ones, but now a huge fan of most all other peppers: fresh, roasted, dried and ground. So many shapes, sizes, colors and flavors … it’s mind boggling.

Since there are just so many options with this lovely ingredient I’m going to devote today’s post to stuffing – I’ll save the spicy siblings for another time.

This past weekend I zipped down to the Larchmont Farmers Market to pick up my CSA box from the Gaia’s Breath Farm table. In addition to beets, squash and kale I also got a bunch of Spring Raab. (The less pungent version of broccoli raab.) I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with it this week, but happy because I just love it’s mild flavor.

Hopping over to the Lani Farm table I found piles and piles of peppers … I could barely contain myself! I picked up a few from each bunch and decided to play over the weekend.

Let’s talk a little about peppers: they range in flavor from mild and sweet to “melt your face” hot. On a scale of 1 -100 (100 being the melt your face variety) I can tolerate up to about 80. After that I’m pretty much not tasting anything and looking for relief! For today I’m going to focus on sweet to mildly spicy.

Peppers are loaded with lots of vitamins and nutrients. Cooking can shift the levels of Vitamins – but never to the point of loosing them. For instance: cooking them shows a slight reduction of potassium, iron and fiber, BUT increases their levels of Vitamins C and A. This week I have three stuffed pepper versions to show you with varying levels of heat.

More after the jump … 

    

First just a quick look at the Japanese peppers. I picked up two kinds at the market: Fushimi, on the left; and Shishito in the middle. Both are sweet to mildly spicy. I simply pan seared them with a little olive oil and tossed with some Kosher salt.

I used them on an appetizer tray this weekend with great success.  Back in the early days of Tarry Lodge I remember Andy using them in the pickled pepper appetizer. We roasted them on trays in the pizza oven … so yummy! If you’ve never tried them now is the time. Just get a couple and sauté for a few minutes.

Let’s start with the bell peppers. After cleaning them out I decided to give them a quick turn in the microwave, just to soften them up. I basically never use the microwave except to maybe melt butter or heat water.  One of the peppers had a nice variegated color and I was afraid if I blanched it the whole thing would turn green – which does happen with the purple ones. So microwave was my way to go in this case.

    

I took the tops of the peppers and sauteed them with a couple of garlic cloves, half of a red onion and 1 cup of chopped tomatoes. To that I added about 2 cups of rice and a little fresh basil – and my filling was done! This dish comes together really quickly. It’s also a dish you can make any way you like. It’s a perfect vehicle for using leftover things in the ‘fridge.

After I stuffed the peppers I pureed a small can of fire roasted tomatoes and put that in the bottom of the pan. The tomato sauce not only will cook into the peppers, but give you a little sauce in the end to drizzle over the dish. Cover and bake for about 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Just before serving I topped mine with a little cheese – but that’s totally up to you. These are great to make ahead for the week – or even to freeze for later.

 

  

My second stuffed pepper is a riff on the popular pasta dish: Oriecchette with Sausage and Broccoli Raab. I took the Italian peppers, which were quite large and roasted them in the oven. (There are poblanos on the tray too … I’ll get to them in a minute.)

After a quick look in the freezer I found a pack of sausage from Stone Barns and knew I had a plan! I sautéed that along my spring raab and some pretty yellow tomatoes for color.

 

    

After peeling the skin from the peppers I added a little Parmesan cheese, basil and lemon zest to the filling and rolled them up.

While they were warming in the oven I made a little spaghetti and tossed with garlic infused oil. A super tasty dinner! I should mention that you could easily add a marinara sauce to this and have great success – but as I mentioned earlier, I was channeling the oriecchette dish, which typically only uses garlic infused olive oil as the “sauce”.

 

    

My last idea came together in less than 15 minutes. While the poblanos were roasting in the oven I pulled together a couple of simple ingredients: black beans, prepared salsa, Monterey Jack cheese and some spices. After a quick toss in the bowl I topped the peppers with the mix and broiled them for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

These are great on their own … but with the addition of tortilla chips, sour cream and guacamole I had a perfect little snack!

I hope the recipes below encourage you to be creative with your peppers and change things up … there is nothing easier that making a stuffed pepper – and the more flavor you add the better!

My September cooking classes are on-line right now at Tarry Market. Check them out when you have a chance.

Buon Appetito!

 

Stuffed Italian Peppers
Makes 4 cups of filling

4-6 long Italian peppers
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly grated black pepper
1 small onion, 1/4″ dice, about 1 cup
2 garlic cloves. minced
1 lb sausage meat
1/2 -1 teaspoon red chili flakes
4-5 cups thinly sliced greens, spring raab, spinach or chard
1 1/2 cups fresh tomato, chopped
Parmesan Cheese
Lemon Zest
Fresh Basil, sliced

Carefully slice an opening, long-way, on the pepper. (see photo above) Carefully remove the rib and seeds. Season the peppers with oil, salt and pepper and place under a low broiler. Turn every 5 minutes until they are soft and slightly charred.

Saute the onion and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Once the onions begin to take on a little color, add the sausage meat and chili flakes. Once the meat is cooked through remove with a slotted spoon and set in a large mixing bowl.

Drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat and add the greens, along with a pinch of salt and pepper and saute until wilted. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a cutting board.

Add the tomatoes to the pan with a tablespoon of oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. If necessary add a little water to help the tomatoes break down. (That will also help pull up some of the nice crusty bits from the sausage.) Cook for about 3-4 minutes breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon. While they are cooking roughly chop the greens and add to the meat. Add the tomatoes and mix the filling.

Once the peppers are done remove from the oven and cool slightly. (This will happen while you are making the filling.) Gently peel off the blistered skin and turn the pepper over. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and 1/4 – 1/3 cup of filling. Top with another sprinkle of cheese, a few grates of lemon zest and fresh basil. Roll and set on tray seam-side down.

Place in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Serve with your favorite pasta.

 

Poblano Nachos
Makes about 3 cups of filling

4-6 small poblano peppers
1 15 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup prepared salsa
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, plus more for top
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Kosher salt and black pepper
Juice and zest of 1/2 lime

Carefully slice poblanos in half, long-way, removing the seeds. Season the peppers with oil and salt and place under a low broiler. Turn every 5 minutes until they are soft and slightly charred.

Meanwhile in a large bowl crush the beans slightly with a potato masher. Add the rest of the ingredients,1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and mix well. Set aside.

After the peppers are finished cooking and have cooled slightly, fill each pepper half with a generous amount of filling and top with additional cheese. Broil on high for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips, guacamole and sour cream.

 

Maria Reina is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Port Chester, NY. In her free time she loves hanging out at local Farmers Markets in Westchester County doing cooking demos with seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog you can follow her  on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmer's markets, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam), Instagram (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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