During high school, and for a few years after, I worked on and off at a local Italian restaurant. I was mainly a scullery maid and pizza maker, but I also did stints as a waitress and bar tender – it was a small family place, and they made sure to get their money’s worth out of the help. It was also a fairly fun and relaxed atmosphere, with one of the perks being that the owners fed us at no charge, often sending me home with a free pizza at the end of the night. They also ran specials certain nights, and if there were leftovers, we got to have those as well. One of my favorites was the Stuffed Peppers – that earthy combo of tomatoes, rice and beef was just so satisfying and comforting. I always prayed that it wouldn’t all get ordered by the end of the night.
Fast forward a few years – I used to make stuffed peppers quite often, but somehow I managed to lose my mojo, and I hadn’t been happy with how they turned out the last few times I made them. So for these, I decided to completely change things up and start with all of the stuffing ingredients cooked before combining them. That way, the peppers would keep their shape and texture better because they would spend less time in the oven. All of that turned out to be a very good idea indeed, because the flavors are great and the peppers still taste like an even better version of themselves. Start with some nice, big sweet peppers. Any color is fine. Green ones will have a stronger flavor, while the reds and yellows with be milder and sweeter.I think the turkey lightens up the dish a bit, and I’ve added additional vegetables as well, which increases the flavor, and sneaks in some extra fiber and nutrition. The pesto really puts things over the top, and makes the dish, so don’t leave it out – store bought will work well, if you don’t have homemade.
- 3 large sweet peppers
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 & ½ pounds ground turkey
- 1 large carrot, cut in a medium dice
- 1 large or 2 smaller celery stalks, cut in a medium dice
- 1 cup cooked rice – leftover rice will work great
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 28 ounce can stewed tomatoes, divided
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- leaves from 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh thyme [or ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves]
- 3 scallions or green onions, white and green parts, sliced
- ⅓ cup pesto
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Empty can of tomatoes into a medium bowl and break tomatoes up – I just get in there and squish them with my hands, removing the stems ends if needed.
- Cut each pepper in half from top to bottom. Remove stems, and seeds, along with any white pith inside. Set aside.
- Heat olive oil in wide, nonstick saute pan. Add turkey, break apart a bit, then do no disturb for about 5 minutes, to allow meat to get some nice color on it.
- Sprinkle meat with about ½ teaspoon kosher salt, a few fresh grind of black pepper, and stir around to break up as it cooks.
- When about 75% of the pink is gone, add the carrot and celery and cook about 5 minutes.
- Add the rice, garlic, and about 1 cup of the tomatoes.
- Taste and add salt and pepper if needed [it will be]
- Mix together and bring up to a simmer for 6 or 7 minutes – it should not be at all soupy, so if it is, raise the heat a bit and cook and stir until it reduces down.
- Stir in scallions and pesto.
- Spoon about ½ cup of remaining tomatoes over the bottom of an 11 by 9 inch baking dish.
- Fill the pepper halves and arrange them in the dish, kind of propping them against each other if needed, to keep them level. Top each one with a generous spoonful of the tomatoes, and pour any remaining tomatoes in the bottom of the dish.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes, till peppers are easy to pierce with the tip of a sharp knife. Top each with a generous sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan and bake another 5 minutes. Serve with a green salad, and maybe a side of garlic mashed potatoes.
Now, my old boss thought, that even though there is rice in there already, that the meal wasn’t complete without a big dollop of mashed potatoes next to the peppers, and once you’ve tasted the combination, it is hard to argue with her logic. You can always walk and extra half mile tomorrow to work off those carbs, right?