Monday, 27 August 2012

Mini/Maxi Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers

These are wonderfully flavorful, and the whole thing can be made ahead - for the refrigerator or freezer!!  It's very healthy, with brown rice, turkey sausage, and the only other fat coming from the cheese on top (which you could leave off, I suppose) I had most of a bag of those cute mini sweet bell peppers leftover from another dish, and this was the perfect way to use them up.  But you could also just use regular large bell peppers and cut them in half (for the maxi).  I've made lots of extra stuffing in the pan for kids, or others who aren't fans of bell peppers.  These could even be healthy appetizers at a buffet - enjoy!

Mini/Maxi Italian Stuffed Bell Peppers

2C dry brown rice + 4C water (or 6C cooked leftover rice)

about 12 mini sweet bell peppers, or 6 large ones, cut in half
    note - you could probably use 3-4 doz mini peppers or more, but i wanted lots of 
    extra filling for the kiddos ;-)

1 20oz package turkey italian sausage (sweet or hot)
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjorum
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt

28 oz diced or crushed tomatoes
8ox tomato sauce

2C shredded provolone or mozzarella cheese (or about 12 slices) (or sub cheddar, but it will be less italian ;-)

  1. Heat the oven to 350.
  2. Start your rice - place 2C dry long grain brown rice and 4C water in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 45-60 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is gone.  You can turn off the heat when there is just a small amount of liquid left, but leave the lid on to steam for about 15 more minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, begin to brown the Italian turkey sausage.  If you have links, slice the skin open and remove it - cook the ground meat until it begins to brown.  Add the onions and all the spices and cook until the meat is cooked through. note - this seems like a lot of seasonings, but remember we are mixing it with all that plain rice and plain tomatoes.
  4. Also meanwhile, make a long slit into the side of each mini pepper (or cut whole peppers in half, and clean out the veins).  Place the slit side down on a dinner plate, add a couple tablespoons of water, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 5 minutes.  Remove from the microwave to cool, but leave them covered with the wrap to continue steaming.
  5. Put it all together - in a large mixing bowl, place the hot cooked rice, seasoned meat and diced tomatoes.  Toss well until combined.  Stuff each pepper with filling - it's fine to have the seam a bit open. (I tried using a small spoon, but honestly, my fingers worked better)
  6. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with oil.  Pour the rest of the meat/rice filling into the dish.  Arrange the peppers on top, seam side down, squishing them down into the rice a bit.  Make them in rows, or a fun pattern!  Spoon the tomato sauce over the peppers - this keeps the skins from burning, and makes a kind of caramelized sticky crust.
  7. Spray a sheet of foil with oil, then cover the dish (oil side down, of course)  Bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, uncover, and sprinkle the whole dish with cheese (or lay slices over all).  Return to the oven (do not cover) increase temp to 400, and bake about 15 more minutes, or until cheese is bubble and browned.
For buffet appetizers, use enough mini peppers to use all the stuffing, and place them slit side up with just a drizzle of tomato sauce, and uncovered on a baking sheet.  Roast at 400 for about 20-25 minutes When they are tender and beginning to blacken, sprinkle with cheese and broil.  
The whole dish can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.  Bake for 1 hour the first time, then 15 minutes with the cheese.

To freeze, instead of spraying a casserole in step 6, line it with heavy foil.  Assemble the whole dish (without cheese) and place in the freezer until hard.  Pop the foil out of the pan, then wrap well with more foil, then plastic wrap, label and place back in the freezer.  When you are ready to cook, remove the outer layers of plastic and foil, and plop the original foiled casserole into the original pan. Bake, covered at 350 for 2 hours, then 15 minutes with the cheese.