I’d like to think that I’m a pretty adventurous eater. Among the list of strange “foods” I’ve consumed are crickets, frog legs, pork belly, chicken liver, and a million other things that, had you gone back in time and told my parents, they would have never believed. See, I used to be very particular. Ask me to take a bite of non-baby carrots and you’d be crazy. Try a piece of sushi? Yeah right. Get anywhere near me with a slice of multi-grain bread and you’d be a dead man.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve outgrown that phase, and in some ways I have. I’ll try just about anything you put in front of me on a plate, in a bowl, on a skewer, you name it. Well, just about everything. Until now, I’ve had a strict aversion to stuffed peppers. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I like peppers, I really do. I like stuffed things, too! Give me a couple profiteroles or a burrito and I’ll be one happy girl. But there’s always been something about stuffed peppers…
I’m being melodramatic here. I only actually learned about stuffed peppers this year, when Matt suggested we make them for dinner one night. For some reason, my stomach was very turned off from this idea. I couldn’t give you one reason why, even if I thought really, really hard about it. He promised me he knew how to make ‘em real good but I kept my foot down. After going through this routine a few times, he learned to suggest other dishes, most of which I was happy to experiment with.
So it came as a big surprise to him when, just the other night, I suggested that we make some stuffed peppers for dinner. The second I said it, I was surprised too. I’m still not sure what sort of chemical imbalance was neutralized that afternoon, causing me to readjust my moral code so drastically, but thank goodness, because I think I’ve found my new favorite meal.
These Blistered Italian Stuffed Peppers bring me back to my time in Italy, when every single vegetable tasted just-picked and so sweet. That is, except for the avocados. Never buy an avocado in Italy, I mean it.
Packed with protein and nutrients, this is an all-in-one dinner. Rather than use tomato sauce, I roasted fresh cherry tomatoes and then squashed them to create a chunky puree.
This helped the quinoa, veggie, and sausage mixture hold together and added complexity to the flavor. For even more structure, the shredded mozzarella mixed in create a sticky “glue” that makes scooping out bites of this magic mixture such fun to eat. The mozzarella on top and the exterior of the peppers should look almost equally blistered, lending a smoky hint to this refreshing dish.
I love this meal because it packs a lot of punch in a small package. There are so many flavors and textures and colors…I can’t believe I’ve been missing out for so long! I’m sure my (now conquered) fear of stuffed peppers is mine alone, but in addition to trying this recipe, I encourage you guys to tend to something you’ve been avoiding for a while. It might be the best (or in my case, most delicious) thing you’ve ever done.
Ingredients (serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for lunch)
4 bell peppers with flat bottoms (buy a variety of colors for a nice presentation)
1 cup red quinoa
Approx. 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
2 sweet Italian sausages
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 medium ball fresh mozzarella
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1. Preheat oven to 450o Fahrenheit.
2. Place quinoa and two cups water in a small pot. Stir to ensure all the quinoa is submerged. Heat until boiling. Cover and turn flame down so water is simmering.
3. Once the quinoa is set up, gently toss tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and salt in an oven safe dish. Bake until quinoa is finished cooking, about 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, slice the tops off of peppers and remove seeds. Chop pepper tops into small pieces and set aside. Arrange topless peppers in a baking dish lined with parchment paper or tinfoil.
5. While quinoa and tomatoes are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, remove sausages from their casings and sauté until cooked. Make sure to break sausage up into small pieces. Set sausage aside.
6. Sautee chopped peppers in the same skillet, until just barely tender, about 3 minutes.
7. By now, tomatoes should be roasted. Remove from oven and turn heat down to 375o. Use a cocktail muddler, potato smasher, or back of a wooden spoon to smash tomatoes into a chunky purée.
7. Slice four ¼ inch discs from mozzarella ball and shred the rest.
8. Add quinoa, tomato puree, sausage, and red pepper to the skillet holding sautéed peppers. Fold to incorporate, adding shredded mozzarella once everything else is evenly distributed.
9. Carefully spoon quinoa mixture into hollow peppers until full. You will have some left over for lunch tomorrow. Place one slice of mozzarella atop each pepper. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes.
10. Sprinkle Panko crumbs on top of now melted cheese, rotate dish in oven, and bake until both mozzarella and peppers have dark blistery spots on them, about 15 more minutes. Remove from oven, let cool momentarily and top with basil chiffonade (fresh basilleaves sliced into thin strips).