As a girl growing up in Mt. Vernon, NY, I remember how happy we were when my mother would serve her stuffed red peppers. Even though today most of my friends stuff their peppers with rice and meat, I am still a purist who loves my mother’s recipe that only calls for fresh breadcrumbs, olive oil, black oil-cured olives and capers, and I think you will love them too
When we lived in the south, it was hard for me to find the right ingredients for this dish, so I waited until my folks made a trip to Charlottesville, VA in a car loaded down with Italian food products. Happiness. I would now have a huge can of olive oil (Filipo Berrio was my mother’s favorite), a tremendous piece of reggiano parmeggiano cheese, oil cured black olives, imported Italian plum tomatoes in juice (not in puree or crushed), lots of Italian cold cuts, veal galore and enough Italian bread to fill the freezer.
Sometimes I tried to make these stuffed peppers using American white bread, a can of ripe black olives and the pathetic version of green overly fruity olive oil that local stores carried back then. I made a sauce using red pack or Hunt’s tomatoes and dried basil. Ugh. The result was horrible.
No, folks, if you want to lighten up an original Italian family recipe, that is fine, by using less oil or whatever. However, you cannot substitute Italian food products with grocery store finds and think you will get the same result. I encourage you to find the right ingredients to ensure the result is delicious and authentic.
This means that for this dish, you will need the Italian ingredients as they are listed in the ingredient section of the recipe. This is not a hard dish to make, just a persnickety one when it comes to choosing the right elements for the dish.
4 firm, organic, sweet red peppers, tops cut off, cleaned out and dried
1 day old loaf of Italian bread, round or long, crust removed
14 – 16 oil cured black olives, pitted by hand or pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup grated parmesan reggiano cheese
1/2 jar imported capers, in vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil for moistening bread stuffing
2 tbsp to 1/4 cup mild olive oil for frying peppers
2 – 3 cloves of fresh garlic, pressed
1 small handful of fresh basil leaves, shredded
1 small handful Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 cups fresh light tomato sauce
Light tomato sauce:
Put one large can of imported Italian plum tomatoes in a blender and blend for 30 seconds or so until the tomatoes are liquidated. In a heavy two quart saucepan, heat 2 tbsp of mild olive oil on medium high heat and when the oil is shimmering, throw in two or three cut up cloves of fresh garlic. Stir them around with a wooden spoon making sure they permeate the oil with flavor, turn slightly golden, but not brown.
Throw in the blended tomatoes and stir them well. Throw in a handful of shredded basil, the finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper.Turn the heat down to a simmer, partially cover the pan and simmer for thirty minutes. Ten minutes before the sauce is done, add more shredded basil. Turn off sauce at end of 30 minutes and let rest while making the stuffed peppers.
Directions for Stuffed Peppers:
Wash and dry the peppers. Cut off the tops and clean out the seeds. Pat dry the insides and outside with a paper towel. Set aside while making the stuffing.
Using a large serrated bread knife, cut the crust off the loaf of bread. Pull it apart into chunks and place them, 1/3 at a time, into a food processor. Pulse the chunks until they make large fresh bread crumbs. Place the fresh bread crumbs into a large ceraminc bowl.
Hand pit the oil-cured olives and cut in two. If using already pitted kalamata, just cut them in two. Place olives in the bowl with the bread. Drain the capers, reserving 2 or more tbsps of the liquid. Add the capers and reserved liquid to bowl of bread and olives. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley and shredded basil and the pressed garlic cloves. Add the grated cheese.
Pour over the mixture either 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, or 2 tbsp olive oil and enough mild broth to slightly moisten the stuffing. With your hands, toss the stuffing until everything is well combined and the stuffing is lightly moistened thruout. You might want to add more olive oil or broth or olive oil spray. Toss mixture again.
Fill the peppers almost to the top with the bread stuffing. Set them aside while you heat up your dutch oven.
In a heavy dutch oven such as a le creuset pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium high heat until oil is shimmering. Carefully lower each stuffed pepper into the pan and then turn each one one its side to brown using tongs or even your fingers holding onto the firm side of the pepper as you turn. Let each side brown slightly. Turn three or four times to make sure each side has browned slightly.
Stand up the peppers in the pan, right side up and add the tomato sauce to the pan, letting it bubble up around the peppers. Spoon a few spoonfuls onto the top of the peppers. Turn heat down to simmer, partially cover the pot and simmer the peppers for 15 minutes on top of the stove.
Take off the cover and finish cooking by baking in a 350º oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until peppers seem done and tops are crusty and brown. Take out of oven and let cool.
You can leave these out covered with wax paper until ready to serve at room temperature, or you can let them cool and then place in a tupperware in the fridge where they will keep for several days. Some people even freeze them, but since I never have, I can’t say how they would turn out.
You can lighten up the original recipe by using less olive oil and more broth to moisten the stuffing and you can brown the peppers in less oil too. Also, Italian bread is usually made without fat, so it is not as hard on your diet as other breads. I have not done the calorie count, but when I make the light version of this recipe, I will include it.