Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not Quite Your "Basic" Stuffed Peppers

There are recipes we make month after month - or at least year after year - we take for granted that absolutely everyone makes the same. We (read "I") also assume that just about everybody knows how to make certain menu basics. Now, we Pittsburghers might consider "basic" what non-Burgers consider exotic...like stuffed cabbage or halushki or chipped ham BBQs. (Chipped ham BBQ sandwiches EXOTIC?! Bwahahahaha...maybe I'm exaggerating a wee bit.) 

Last week I actually saw a Facebook post by a pretty prominent food blogger/caterer/event planner/culinary team builder - and all round good gal - from Florida who said she was making stuffed cabbage, hadn't done so in many years (since she left Michigan), and did anyone have any suggestions for the perfect version? Did I have suggestions? Hey...I'm from Pittsburgh, of COURSE I have stuffed cabbage suggestions! 

Through the thread it became obvious that stuffed cabbage is NOT the same around the country as I had surmised. Some iterations use pork, some answering Facebookers were aghast at the idea of sauerkraut and tomato as a base for the cabbage rolls (something that I think of as standard along with the inclusion of rice), others even make a kind of sweet and sour version with raisins. Bottom line is that what I take for granted is a whole 'nother ball game to someone else. Which brings me to stuffed peppers. 

Basically, I make my stuffed peppers like my mom did except I use a little granulated garlic - something my mom would NEVER do, a packet of (shocked at this one?) Ranch Dressing mix, a touch of Worcestershire (woo-stah-sher) sauce, a touch of white wine and a few other things to give the dish a little more "character." (I have mentioned before that Mum's cooking was pretty bland...sorry Mum.) 

Regardless of the small(ish) differences, my recipe is basically the same as what I enjoyed around the chrome and Formica kitchen table in the 50's. Ground beef, rice, tomato all piled into peppers and baked. Oh, and while I normally use green peppers for stuffing, the abundance of red, ripe peppers in the fall allow me to use those beauties for a sweeter pepper and a prettier presentation. As luck would have it, both Kuhn's AND Giant Eagle had red peppers for $1.99 a pound ON SALE! What an out-of-season stroke of luck! Stuffed RED peppers it was. 

So here's my version. Maybe you make stuffed peppers yourself, maybe you don't...maybe your recipe is similar to mine, maybe it isn't. One thing I've found in life, it's always good to have options! 

(What ever happened to the stuffed cabbage La Diva Cucina made? She declared them glorious. Nothing like good ol' stuffed cabbage whether you're in Pittsburgh or Poland or even Florida! Hits the spot every time.)

Not Quite Your "Basic" Stuffed Peppers

Serves 4     

  • 4  green peppers - or RED! (multiple colors look really pretty - orange, yellow, too), tops cut off, seeds & ribs removed
  • 1  pound  ground beef, extra lean
  • 1/2 cup  instant rice -- uncooked
  • 1/2 packet Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix (Secret ingredient! Gives the filling a subtle, smooth flavor that balances the acid of the tomatoes and Worcestershire)
  • 1 small  onion -- finely minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 can  diced tomatoes, whirred in the food processor until chunks are gone and divided in half
  • 1 14.1 oz can Heinz tomato soup FROM ENGLAND  (find this in the imported-from-England/Britain section at Giant Eagle - this is gluten-free) or another equivalent brand if you're not concerned about gluten - divided in half -DO NOT DILUTE THIS, this isn't condensed soup so use it full strength as it comes from the can 
  • 1 t granulated garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 t oregano
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • Heinz (of course!) ketchup for the tops

Mix all ingredients but peppers (using only 1/2 a can of tomatoes and 1/2 a can of tomato soup). Mix it all up VERY well.

Stuff mixture evenly into peppers and place in deep casserole small enough to hold peppers snugly (so they don't fall over). 

Mix wine with remaining 1/2 can of tomatoes and tomato soup and pour around peppers.  Drizzle ketchup over the tops, almost covering.

Bake uncovered at 375 for an hour and a half or until browned, the filling is cooked through and the peppers are soft - longer if the peppers are large.

Serve with lots of sauce spooned over the stuffed peppers and a couple of good veggies - whole roasted carrots and Brussels sprouts are nice - on the side.

Bonus pic of these GORGEOUS carrots...don't you love the speckled one?

NOTE: The amount of filling (stuffing) you need is relative to the size of the peppers. If the peppers are small, you may have some filling left over. I say PILE THOSE SUCKERS HIGH with stuffing! 

If you don't have enough stuffing because the peppers are really big, make another half recipe of stuffing and that should do it.

NOTE 2: Not sure how many peppers you need to snugly fit into your casserole dish or which dish to use? Before you cut the tops off, do a trial run and see just how many you need or just which casserole dish works best for the number you need to make. Once you have the dish and the number figured out, THEN cut the tops off and proceed. 

If you don't have a taller casserole, instead of standing the peppers on end and stuffing a whole pepper, cut them in half lengthwise, lay them down in a shallower dish and bake stuffed pepper halves just like you would whole ones. Bonus? Stretches the recipe to serve twice as many AND cuts the baking time, too.

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