By Nancy Olah
My school garden from 3rd to 12th grade produced a lot of peppers. In those days, we only grew green bell peppers – not the colorful yellow, orange, and red bell peppers, nor the exotic array of “hotter” pepper varieties I now find at the farmer’s market.
Although I have a great recipe for Baked Bell Peppers Stuffed with Sausage and Spinach in Fool a Carnivore, I wanted to create something that was closer to the Stuffed Peppers I remembered from my youth.
I called my 91-year old mom to find out what she remembered about making stuffed peppers. She told me she “par-boiled” the peppers, fried the ground meat, added minute rice, and leftover spaghetti sauce, stuffed the mixture into the limp peppers, and baked those suckers in the oven.
No offense mom, but no onions, no garlic, no herbs, no cheese . . . no wonder I didn’t like them!!
If you have leftover risotto, this recipe is truly a snap to make. But even if you don’t (and I know this sounds like heresy), you really can microwave Arborio rice and make a passable risotto for this recipe. Look ma, no stirring!
Unlike my mom, I made a fresh, chunky tomato sauce with plenty of onions, garlic, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes. And since I haven’t eaten ground meat since high school, I used Tofurky Italian Sausage for my plant-based protein. Since I concocted this on one of my non-vegan days, I used some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to add flavor and help bind the stuffing. . . . but you could easily replace the parm with Follow Your Heart Mozzarella Shreds to keep this dish completely vegan.
And last, but not least, I wanted to make this in the slow cooker, so that I could walk away and return home a few hours later to a delightful aroma.
Peppers are super cheap – I think I got those big meaty green ones for 65 cents apiece at the farmers market, and I could have purchased red ones for about 35 cents more. I decided to use green ones because I wanted this to look as much like my mom’s version as possible – even though the taste was light years better!
(Sorry, mom – you raised me to be honest!!)
- 4 large green peppers
- 1½ cups of leftover risotto (or ¾ cup Arborio rice and 1½ cups of vegetable stock or broth)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 5 plump garlic cloves, pressed or minced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed organic tomatoes with basil
- ½ cup chopped fresh organic tomatoes (cherry or grape tomatoes work well)
- 1 Bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (or substitute flat leaf parsley if you don't have fresh basil)
- 2 Tofurky Italian sausages (1/2 package)
- 11/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (or 1¼ cup Follow Your Heart Mozzarella Shreds for the vegan version)
- Cut the tops off the peppers and discard the stems and seeds. Chop the tops of the peppers into small pieces. Put the pepper hulls aside for later stuffing.
- If you don't have leftover risotto, put the Arborio rice in a large glass bowl with the vegetable stock or broth. Cover the bowl with a paper towel or a microwave safe cover, and microwave on high for 15 minutes.
- Heat a large skillet (or if you're lucky, your Cuisinart Cook Central), and add the olive oil. Sauté the onions for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and the chopped peppers and sauté for about about 5 more minutes. (What a coincidence - this is the same amount of time it will take your rice to cook!)
- Add the crushed tomatoes, the chopped fresh tomatoes, and all the herbs and seasonings. Cook the tomato sauce for about 15 more minutes.
- While the tomato sauce is cooking, quarter the two Tofurky sausages lengthwise, and then chop them into fairly small pieces (No need to cook the sausage.). Mix the chopped sausage pieces into the cooked Arborio rice or your leftover risotto.
- If you made your tomato sauce in a skillet, put all but one cup of the sauce in the bottom of your lightly oiled slow cooker, and put a cup of the sauce in with the rice/sausage mixture. (On the other hand, if you made your sauce in the Cuisinart Cook Central, just take out one cup of sauce to add it to the rice and sausage mixture, and leave the rest in the bottom of the slow cooker.)
- Mix in 1 cup of grated Parm (or the vegan Mozzarella shreds) and taste to make sure that the mixture is well seasoned.
- Stuff the rice and sausage mixture into each of the peppers, and stand the peppers upright in the slow cooker (on top of the tomato sauce). Sprinkl the remaining cheese on each of the stuffed peppers.
- Set the slow cooker for 4-5 hours on low.
- Before serving, spoon a little of the sauce on top of each stuffed pepper. Put the remaining sauce onto your plate or serving dish, followed by the stuffed peppers.
- This is very homey comfort food folks, so serve plenty of good bread with it to mop up the tasty sauce!
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