Damn Tasty Stuffed Peppers

This week’s new food adventure… stuffed peppers! I literally have not had stuffed peppers since I was 5 years old. In fact, I remember sitting at the kitchen table feigning sickness so as not to be forced to eat the strange meat stuffed vegetable sitting before me. Twenty-five years later, I have a more sophisticated palette (I should hope so!) and when Judd suggested stuffed peppers this week, I thought, yeah, let’s prove 5 year old Estee and her lame taste buds wrong!

After perusing the internet for some recipe inspiration, we came up with a damn tasty version that incorporated things we had sitting in our fridge. Arguably, the most important ingredient in this recipe is the pepper. The star of the show, so to speak. We came across some truly beautiful and behemoth red peppers at the market that allowed for maximum stuff-age… and filled them to the brim we did! When it came to cooking the meat, we both agreed that beef cooked in a skillet tastes better than beef steamed inside a pepper in the oven. The flavor of the onions and garlic sauteed in savory spices of basil, sage and marjoram tricked our noses into thinking we were cooking in an Italian grandmother’s kitchen. The spinach and red pepper chunks added color and bite while making this meal feel more complete by incorporating vegetables into the goulash. Add some tomato sauce and rice and you could eat this hearty filling straight from the pan (we might have had a few nibbles). Because all the ingredients were cooked on the stove, it only took 10-15 minutes for the stuffed peppers to warm in the oven, further allowing delicious flavors to meld.

Based on the emptiness of my plate, I would say I like stuffed peppers. Take that 5 year old me!

Makes 4 servings (we halved the recipe and made 2 peppers)

1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked brown rice (starting from about 3/4 to 1 cup raw white rice)
4  large bell peppers (red, yellow, or green)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 1 1/4 lb of ground beef (ground chuck, 20% fat)
6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil)
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon ground marjoram
1/2 dried red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh spinach (a few big handfuls)
The caps of the red peppers, diced
8 ounces tomato sauce, or more to taste
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (optional)

Cook rice on stovetop or in rice cooker (1 cup of raw brown rice plus 2 cups of water, bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until tender.)

Cut the tops off of the bell peppers. Remove and discard the stem and seeds. Cut the meat off the pepper into bitesize pieces around the stem. Set aside. Place bell peppers cut side up on a steaming basket over an inch of water in a large covered pot. Bring to boil, let steam for 10 minutes.

In a skillet over medium high heat, cook meat until brown. In an another large skillet, saute onion in oil over medium high heat. Once the onions become translucent, about 5-8 minutes, add basil, sage, majoram and red pepper flakes. Add cooked meat and red pepper chunks to the onion mixture. Fold spinach into skillet, cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Pour in tomato sauce and let simmer for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in rice until incorporated.

Heat oven to 350°F. Remove bell peppers from steamer pan. Place cut side up in a pyrex or other oven-proof casserole. Gently stuff the peppers with the ground beef rice mixture. Finely grate fresh parmigiano reggiano over top of each pepper until evenly coated.

Place on middle rack and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is brown and peppers are sweating.


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