I was in my twenties before I started enjoying peppers, and even then I only really liked them raw and dunked into ranch dip. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I discovered the glory of cooked peppers: roasted in the oven, char-grilled on the barbecue, or sautéed with garlic and olive oil. Now I find ways to work peppers into my diet as often as I can.
It seems to be a pattern with me, as these days I can’t get enough of foods I detested growing up – peppers, beans, mushrooms, brussels sprouts… If only I could start liking onions.
Anyway, I have been on the hunt for a good stuffed pepper recipe for some time. I had only only two simple criteria: I wanted a tasty filling that wasn’t too heavy, like some rice/cheese/meat stuffings can be, and I didn’t want to have to pre-cook the peppers at all. Previous attempts have resulted in perfectly cooked filling surrounded by just-a-bit-too-raw peppers, or the peppers turning to mush around a not-quite-heated-through filling.
This recipe really gets it right. From Domenica Marchetti’s Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style, this version results in a perfectly cooked pepper (that you don’t have to pre-cook) surrounding an impeccable savoury crumb filling that’s loaded with antipasto, capers and lots of asiago and parmesan cheese. Previously, I had cut the tops of my peppers off, scooping out the seeds and standing the peppers up to stuff them. This rendition calls for cutting the peppers in half from top to bottom, laying them on their sides to stuff. Genius.
The main component of the filling is fresh breadcrumbs. I rarely buy breadcrumbs anymore. On the Rachael Ray show a long time ago (so long ago now that I can’t remember if it was her talk show or back when she was still on the Food Network) she mentioned a fabulous tip: any stale bread in my house, especially crusts, go immediately into a bag in my freezer to be used for bread pudding, stuffing, or ground into fresh bread crumbs. I don’t have to buy crumbs, and I don’t waste my extra bread.
You can make these ahead in two different ways. First, you can prepare the filling and peppers and store them separately, stuffing them only right before you are ready to bake them. Alternately, and what I actually did with the batch you see pictured, you can stuff and bake the peppers entirely and reheat them in a 375 degrees F oven for about 25 minutes, until heated through. With the reheat method, the peppers do end up quite soft, but they do hold their shape and are just as delicious.
- ¼ cup plus 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups lightly packed fresh bread crumbs (I used whole wheat)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup store-bought antipasto (or giardiniera, as in the original recipe. I couldn't find any.)
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
- ¾ cup freshly grated asiago cheese
- ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 4 bell peppers (a combination of yellow, red and orange)
- 1- 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes, coarsely chopped or mashed
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a large saute pan, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, bread crumbs and parsley and cook, stirring often, for 5-8 minutes until the crumbs are golden and beginning to get crispy. Transfer crumb mixture to a large bowl and add antipasto, capers, asiago, parmesan, salt, pepper and cayenne. Mix together well and set aside.
- Cut peppers in half lengthwise through the stem, leaving a bit of stem on each piece. Remove the seeds and white pithy ribs. Stuff each pepper half with filling, pressing to make sure it gets into all the nooks and crannies. Reserve leftover stuffing for sprinkling on top.
- Coat the bottom of a large oven-proof dish with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Pour approximately ¾ of the can of tomatoes into the dish and spread into an even layer. Arrange stuffed peppers evenly on top of tomatoes.
- Spoon remaining tomatoes evenly over the tops of the peppers. Sprinkle with remaining bread crumb mixture, and drizzle the remaking 2 tablespoons of olive oil over top of the peppers.
- Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until the stuffing is hot, the cheeses are melted and the peppers are tender. Serve immediately. Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as a side dish.
Source: Adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style