This weekend, we will be harvesting the last of our peppers from our garden. We have been so blessed to have such an abundance of beautiful vegetables this year, so much so, that we are still reaping the benefits of the eggplant, leeks, butternut squash, and pumpkins. My brain goes into overdrive, as recipe after recipe comes to mind.. what magical combination can we concoct next?
We had a special request for stuffed peppers from one of our Sisters. She adores them, and has happy childhood memories from her Pennsylvania roots. I was delighted to fulfill her request. While in Italy, I came across this wonderfully spicy stuffed pepper recipe. I modified it with the ingredients I had on hand. I’ve never been a big fan of green peppers, but I love the sweet, colored varieties, as recommended here. The flavors of Italy abound: balsamic, red pepper flakes, fennel and spicy sausage. This is sure to be a family favorite.
Bring rice and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the rice is tender, and the liquid has absorbed, 20-25 min. Remove from heat and set aside
Cook the chopped leek in olive oil over medium low heat until the leek begins to soften (watch that it doesn’t burn), about 5 min. Transfer half of this mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
Stir tomato sauce, beef broth, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper flakes into the skillet with half the leek mixture; cook and stir for 1 minute.
Pour tomato sauce mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish and set aside.
Combine the ground beef, Italian sausage, fennel seeds, diced tomatoes, parsley, garlic, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper into bowl with reserved leek; mix well. Stir in cooked rice and 1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano. Stuff bell peppers with beef and sausage mixture, heaping slightly.
Place stuffed bell pepper halves in the baking dish over tomato sauce; cover baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.
Remove aluminum foil, sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake until the meat is no longer pink, the peppers are tender and the cheese is browned on top, an additional 20 to 25 minutes. Andiamo Mangiare!
This is the time of year when Eggplants are bountiful.. at least in our garden. I find it funny that you either love eggplant or you hate it. During my time at Villa Via Sacra, one of the Brothers told me that he had his whole birthday menu ready for me… 2 months early! It included his favorite dish, Eggplant Parmigiana – I wasn’t surprised. This Brother, like me, has a real appreciation for good food, cooked well. Every time I made the dish, his eyes would practically well up with tears, he loved it that much. So, I figured EVERYONE would like my eggplant parmigiana and took great pride in making the dish. But, visas expired and we had a new rotation of Brothers from our community at the Villa. I thought I’d make them this special dish for their first night in Italy, and was expectant to hear the “oooo’s” and “aahh’s” emanating from them. One of the new Brothers walked into the kitchen and asked what was for dinner. I tightened my apron strings, smoothed out the wrinkles, stood a little taller and declared “My eggplant parmigiana!”
The brother blanched before me, his usual sunny disposition turned to stone, the room went quiet. He HATED Eggplant. I was devastated, my ego deflated; this was going to be a long three months…
Italians love the concept of involtini… something filled and rolled up. I love it too. The time it takes to make this recipe is minimal, and the presentation is delightful, especially if you take the time to wrap each eggplant with a chive before baking. I didn’t have the chives on hand when making this dish for the family, but I still thought the simplicity was beautiful and a different ‘take’ on “eggplant parmigiana”.
P.S. – this Brother became an eggplant lover and I learned more about the meaning of pride!
Preheat the oven to 400* F. Oil a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the eggplant slices on the pan and brush on both sides with 4 Tbsp. of the olive oil. Sprinkle on the oregano, salt, and pepper. Bake for 10 minutes, turning once. They will then be supple and slightly golden.
While the eggplant is in the oven, make a simple tomato sauce by whirring the tomatoes briefly in a food processor or break up with your hands. In a skillet, over low heat, sauté the onion for another minute in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Stir in the tomatoes and cook the mixture briefly, just to blend flavors, about 2 minutes.
Remove the eggplant from the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 350*F.
On each eggplant piece, place a piece of prosciutto or ham, a whole basil leaf, a slice of cheese and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Roll pieces from the small end forward, and secure the bundle with a toothpick or tie a chive around it.
Slather the bottom of a 9x13” baking dish with some of the tomato sauce, and arrange the involtini seam-side down. Over each bundle spread some more tomato sauce and a scattering of the Parmigiano. Warm well in the oven, about 15 min. Andiamo mangiare!
Recipe adapted from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes