Thursday, August 11, 2011

Italian Stuffed Peppers

I was really excited when I saw that bell peppers were making their first appearance at the farmers' market this summer, with my thoughts instantly drifting to stuffed peppers. Stuffed peppers can take on Mexican, Italian, or Mediterranean flavors, and there were so many possibilities that I failed to find pick out a recipe or pick up any specific ingredients before the night before that I was planning on making stuffed peppers for dinner. Taking a quick look through my freezer, fridge, and cabinets, I was able to find the makings for these delicious Italian-style stuffed peppers. Just like so many of my other favorite types of dishes to make, stuffed peppers have nearly infinite possibilities and allow you to use up all kinds of leftovers and odds and ends of ingredients you already have on hand. The Italian sausage and prepared marinara pack the peppers with flavor without any effort on your part, provided you have good sausage and sauce; I used sauce from R.P.'s Pasta Company and Italian sausage from Willow Creek Farm, both local companies that produce tons of fantastic products. Top that with rich, melty cheese and you have a dish that's sure to please nearly everyone. If you want to make this dish vegetarian navy or cannellini beans can be substituted for the Italian sausage, though you will be doing so at the expense of flavor.

I also try to make large batch of grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc.) and beans and freeze the extras so I have a blank palette ready to go in the freezer for a quick lunch or dinner anytime. Prepared grains and beans offer up the possibility of tons of delicious salads and wraps; I frequently combine them with veggies and sauce for nutritious, tasty lunches to bring to work. I keep enough different beans and grains in the freezer and veggies in the fridge that I never get bored with my lunch and don't have to sacrifice taste when I have little time to put a meal together for myself on a busy night. Letting some rice cook in the rice cooker or beans cook on the stove while doing other chores around the house is well worth the small sacrifice in time on the weekend to make the work week a bit more harried.
Italian Stuffed Peppers
serves 2

2 green or red bell peppers, halved, seeds and ribs removed
Canola oil cooking spray
4 ounces Italian sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 slices provolone cheese, cut in half
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Place peppers, cut side down, on prepared baking sheet and spray top side lightly with cooking spray. Roast peppers, rotating baking sheet halfway through, until peppers are tender but not falling apart, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, preheat a pan over medium heat and add Italian sausage, breaking up any large pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula. Once the sausage has rendered some fat, add chopped onion and garlic and continue cooking until onions are translucent and soft, but not falling apart, about 9 to 12 minutes. Add brown rice and marinara sauce, stir well to combine, and continue cooking until mixture is heated through.

3. Divide rice mixture evenly among the four pepper halves (about 1/2 cup per pepper), top each with a half slice of provolone, return to the oven, and cook until cheese is melted and just starting to brown, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve hot.

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