Last week we had a hard frost, and before those hoary fingers had a chance to damage the last of the harvest, I brought in everything I could. As you can see, this season – so lacking in most things – produced a bumper crop of sweet peppers, from a very prolific green-to-red variety I got from Johnny’s Select Seeds called ‘Ace F1’
One of the best things about peppers is that they freeze easily, either whole (with tops & seeds removed); in halves; or sliced. Just cut them up (or not) and off you go. No blanching required. And while I’m not a fan of frozen peppers for salads, in any cooking application, they are perfect. In fact, you can’t really tell the difference from fresh, and considering the price of peppers in the winter (often $3-4/pound) it really pays to grow and freeze your own.
And speaking of whole peppers: here’s a recipe I’m planning on using for a dinner party this weekend. It’s great for guests because you can prepare it ahead of time, pop it in the oven, and actually spend some quality time with the folks you’ve invited! I was first taught this dish by famed PBS chef Maryann Esposito on an episode of The Victory Garden, but have since made a few adaptions of my own, not the least of which is the title. Maryann named her original dish “Peperoni Ripieni Sottosopra,” but I think “Upside Down Stuffed Peppers” flows a bit more easily off the average American tongue:
Recipe: Upside Down Stuffed Peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium leek, cleaned and minced (onions can be used too, but leeks add more flavor)
- 1.5 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 1-inch chunks (often you can’t find this small of a quantity of pork butt; then, use country style spare ribs or other rich pork; tenderloin will not work)
- 1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (use your own canned tomatoes if you have them; they really shine here)
- 1/2 28-ounce can tomato purée
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
- 5 or 6 leaves fresh basil, shredded
- 5 large sweet bell peppers, washed and dried
- 1/2 pound ground beef, lean
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound ground veal
- 1 cup cooked rice (I prefer Asian, but that’s up to you; American rice is firmer)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 large leek, cleaned and minced
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
- 3.5 cups of tomato sauce
- In a sauce pan heat the olive oil and cook the onion until soft. Stir in the pork butt chunks and Italian sausage. Brown on all sides. Stir in the garlic and cook until soft. Lower heat and stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato purée, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer the sauce for about 1 hour. Stir in the basil. The sauce is now ready to use.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Cut remove tops, clean and de-seed peppers.
- In a large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients of the stuffing except the sauce, mixing gently. Fill peppers well, but don’t over-stuff: forcing too much mix will cause the peppers to burst while cooking.
- Ladle 3/4 cup tomato sauce into a large baking pan. Arrange the peppers upside down. Ladle 1 cup of the sauce over peppers. Cover tightly with aluminum foil; bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until peppers are soft. Remove pan from oven, remove foil; carefully turn the peppers right side up; serve immediately with remaining sauce on the side.
BTW: If you use your own frozen whole peppers for this recipe, do NOT defrost first. Stuff frozen shells and place directly into the oven. When internal temperature reaches 150º, peppers are done.