Stuffed peppers make another great use-what's-in-the-fridge meal. The formula goes thusly: a meat, a pasta, a green vegetable, a little tomato sauce, a sprinkle of cheese, and of course, the eponymous pepper.
By now I've made a hundred variations, but my favorite employs sausage as the meat (this is not terribly surprising if you know me). I prefer to use sausage over ground meats because sausage has already been seasoned, so you don't have to stress much about herbs and whatnot. Tonight I used chicken and garlic sausage, but hot or sweet Italian is always a sure bet if you don't know where to start. And using chicken or turkey sausage keeps it nice and light for an everyday meal.
Israeli couscous or cute little tubetti are also great pastas to use here. I suspect you could even use regular teeny couscous, and I would certainly give it a try if I were out of everything else. As for the greenery, leafy vegetables like spinach or arugula are both wonderful, if predictable after a while. Next time I make these I'm going to branch out and use roasted winter squash. Which is not green, true. But it is tasty-sounding. With blue cheese. Ooo! That sounds good. Experiment with your cheese! And consider interesting add-ins like a scoop of currants or pine nuts (or both!), or maybe a sprinkle of garam masala, or what about a handful of fresh mint? The possibilities are endless!
|I had to have these Texas-grown bulb onions. Can't wait to harvest mine!|
The cute presentation makes it feel festive for a weeknight, but the preparation couldn't be simpler. I love the scale-ability of it all, too. Having four people over for dinner? Buy two peppers and four sausage links! You can assemble them early since the filling is technically fully-cooked, then just pop them in the oven when guests arrive.
And of course, eponymous or not, you don't actually have to use a pepper. I've used big-ass zucchinis (with the seeds scooped out) and I'm sure you could even stuff those huge portobello mushroom caps. The world is your oyster, friends. Find something and stuff it. Anyway, here's how I made this particular version.
1/2 cup of orzo
2 fresh chicken and garlic sausage links, squeezed out of the casings
~1/4 an onion, minced
[here I would have added a clove or two of minced garlic if I hadn't used a garlicky sausage]
pinch of red chili flakes
splash of wine (red, white, whatever's open)
1 medium zucchini, grated
~1/2 cup of tomato sauce (or jarred pasta sauce, crushed tomatoes, etc)
handful of Asiago cheese, microplaned, and additional cheese for the tops
1 red pepper, halved, ribs and seeds removed
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cook your orzo about a minute shy of the package directions. Drain and set aside.
Begin to brown your sausage in a large saute pan with a drizzle of olive oil. When the sausage is just about cooked through, add the onion and chili flakes. Allow the onion to soften and become translucent, just a couple of minutes. Then deglaze the pan with a good splash of wine, making sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the zucchini and tomato sauce and let cook for another minute or two, until the zucchini starts to soften. Turn off the heat and stir the cooked orzo and half of your grated cheese. Give it a taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
I've discovered that a loaf pan does a pretty good job of holding your pepper halves upright while they bake, so I'd use that if you have one. If you don't, just use a sheet pan and crinkle foil under the peppers to make them sit up nice and stable. So, arrange the pepper halves upon the oven-bound vessel of your choosing and sprinkle the insides with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stuff the sausage and orzo mixture into each pepper half, and really jam it in there. Pile it up lovely and high, too. It just feels safer doing that in a loaf pan, to me. Anyway, microplane some more Asiago atop the peppers and pop them in the oven for anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on your desired level of pepper doneness. We like ours a little more al dente, so I only cooked them about 20 minutes. If you like a softer pepper, err closer to the 30 minute mark. Consume with glee and mull the possibilities for next time.
Serves 2, takes 20 minutes to assemble and another 20 to bake.