FÊTE & FORAGE

beautiuful LIVINg, bountiful FOOD

In my earlier years, I used to make fun of my parents for not wanting to go out to dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. “What old farts!” I would think. I pitied them even. How could they not want to go out and celebrate their love?! How could they not want to take the opportunity to go out on the town? That was, until my husband and I went out for one too many expensive and disappointing Valentine’s Day dinner.

The worst was the year we made reservations at one of our favorites, a now-closed steak house, Big Rock Chop House in Birmingham. We frequented the restaurant and always cozied up in the curvy booths, drank to the dimly-lit jazzy mood, snuggled under the festive Christmas lights overhead.

We made reservations for Valentine’s Day for what we thought would be the same romantic vibe, only to arrive to a portion of the restaurant crammed with tiny two-top tables in grid fashion with just enough space to brush your butt against the chair next to yours to skooch in (“Oh, I’m sorry” . . . “excuse me” . . . “I’m so sorry” . . . ) There must have been 36 tables in the room (which normally seats 10 4-top tables). To make matters worse, that part of the restaurant was a sort of make-shift tented area, the outdoor veranda during warmer months. There was no permanent heat. Only space heaters and a thick vinyl tent enclosure. This was in February. In Michigan. It was freezing. To top it all off, the service was horribly slow, the prices jacked up, and the food subpar. It was one of the last times we ate at Big Rock. And the last time we ever went out on Valentine’s Day.

So, if you’re staying in like us, and you want something “sweet and spicy” in the comfort of your own home, give these Italian sausage stuffed red peppers a try.

Some people like stuffed peppers to be a bit “loose” and watery. I prefer them with a slightly drier, cohesive filling. How I achieve this is by using ricotta and parmesan mixed with pasta sauce to incorporate and soak up the liquid a bit more. Feel free to pour tomato juice over and beneath the peppers if you want them moister.

Yields 8-10 Servings (Depending on Pepper Size) | Prep Time :25 | Total Cook Time 1:30

INGREDIENTS 

  • 8 bell peppers (red only or red, orange, yellow, and green – preferably large)
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • small onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup rice
  • 2¼ cups water
  • salt to taste
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • 1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (loose, if available)
  • 1 lb. spicy / hot Italian sausage (loose, if available)
  • 24 oz. tomato sauce
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 2 lbs. shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese mix
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • dried parsley for garnish

EQUIPMENT 

  • sauté pan
  • shallow baking dish or foil-lined cookie sheet
  • large mixing bowl
  • saucepan for rice

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. In saucepan, mix in rice, water, butter, and salt.
  3. Bring rice to boil. Once boiling, turn down to low and simmer approximately 20 minutes until cooked.
  4. When rice is finished, set aside.
  5. Coat sauté pan with olive oil and bring to medium-low heat.
  6. While rice cooks, mince garlic and onion in sauté pan on medium-low, making sure garlic doesn’t burn.
  7. Add both sausages, oregano, and basil, breaking sausage into small pieces as it cooks, about 7-10 minutes.
  8. Drain grease, trying not to drain out onion and garlic (try using a coffee filter or paper towel).
  9. Cut bell peppers down middle, deseeding, and trimming out the soft “ribs.” (Don’t worry if a few seeds and rib remain, they’ll cook into the mixture just fine.)
  10. Pour cooked meat mixture into large mixing bowl.
  11. Add pasta sauce, rice, ricotta, and parmesan. Blend well.
  12. Spoon generous amounts of mixture into pepper halves, pressing slightly to be sure mixture fills the shell. Add one final spoonful on top so that it mounds over.
  13. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes.
  14. Increase oven temperature to broil (550°).
  15. Add small handful of cheese atop each pepper.
  16. Place peppers with cheese back in oven to melt to a bubbly brown, literally 1-2 minutes.
  17. Cool, garnish with parsley, and serve alongside oil-sautéd baby spinach.

Sweet & Spicy Stuffed Bell Peppers

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