I hadnt made stuffed peppers in eons, and frankly, I wasnt sure I even remembered how. But, after a quick phone call to Mom, and a little surfing around on the web I knew just what to do.
I started with a basic stuffed pepper recipe, using a combination of ground beef, veal and pork mixed with rice for my filling. I used a short grain Valencia rice because it tends to be a little "stickier" and would hold the rest of the filling ingredients together well, but you can use any kind of rice youd like. After the peppers were stuffed, they were baked in a bath of tomato sauce. To make things a little more interesting, I added some cinnamon to both the filling and the accompanying tomato sauce. Then, for some extra oomph, I added some smoked paprika to both as well.
And the tomato sauce! I must tell you about that sauce. I did something with it that I have never done before. In addition to the regular cast of characters, plus the cinnamon and smoked paprika, I also whisked in a can of tomato soup. Yes, you read right, TOMATO SOUP! Why? Well first of all, I wanted to cut the acidity of the tomatoes. Secondly, I also wanted the sauce to have a touch of sweetness, which I thought would complement the cinnamon. Thirdly, Im just crazy like that sometimes.
Did it work? You bet it did! This tomato sauce was so velvety, that it was almost creamy. It had a warm, mellow, slightly spicy/sweet flavor that kept improving the longer it simmered. In fact, I made some meatballs out of the leftover filling and simmered them in the leftover sauce the next day. I served them over some plain, boiled potatoes and I swear people, magic happened!
These stuffed peppers are definitely something best saved for a lazy weekend day. To do them right, youve got to take your time. But, it is oh, so worth it! You have to judge exactly how long to bake them, as the time will vary depending upon the size of your peppers. As I said, mine were very large, so I did have to add a good thirty minutes to the baking time. If you use smaller peppers, you probably wont need to do that.
I served the stuffed peppers with a green salad, tossed very simply with some olive oil and vinegar, and a loaf of very crusty French bread. Thats all you need. This dish is extremely hearty, satisfying and filling. All of us here at my house adored it! In fact, I think I noticed my husband's eyes roll back in his head a little as he took his fist bite.
These recipes makes more filling and tomato sauce than you really need for six stuffed peppers. You can certainly make more stuffed peppers or scale the filling recipe down. However, the leftover filling can be made into little meatballs, simmered in the extra tomato sauce and served over pasta, rice or potatoes for a whole other meal.
I've provided a simple recipe for a basic, homemade tomato sauce. However, you can certainly use a good quality jar sauce, if you wish.
6 large red bell peppers
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup minced parsley
1 cup panko crumbs
1 cup short grain rice
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups tomato sauce (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 375 deg. F.
Wash, dry and then cut the tops off of the peppers. Reserve the tops. Hollow out the peppers, removing all ribs and seeds. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the olive oil and add the onions. Lower heat to medium and saute for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and saute a minute or two more. Set aside to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, except for the tomato sauce, and mix well.
Using a spoon or scoop, stuff the peppers with the filling. Save the tops for later. Place the stuffed peppers in a roasting pan or large casserole dish and top with tomato sauce. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 1 hour. Then, remove the foil and put the tops on the peppers. Bake 20-30 minutes more, until peppers begin to get browned and the sauce is nice and bubbly.
Basic Tomato Sauce
2-3 tbs olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 clove minced garlic
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbs fresh oregano leaves
2 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano tomatoes are best, if you can find them.)
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1/2-1 tsp smoked paprika to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Add onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic, thyme and oregano, and saute a minute or two more.
Add crushed tomatoes, soup and water and mix well to combine. Stir in cinnamon stick and smoked paprika. Bring to a boil, then lower heat so that sauce is gently simmering. Simmer, covered for about 20-25 minutes. Uncover and simmer another 15-20 minutes, until sauce starts to thicken.
Remove cinnamon stick and add salt and pepper to taste.
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