Stuffed Red Bell Peppers (Peperoni Rossi Ripieni)
Rich in antioxidants, vitamins and potassium, very low in calories (approximately 30 calories a piece!), bell peppers are a dream ingredient: flavorful, versatile, and very affordable most of the year, even if the natural harvesting season is summertime.
Red bell peppers are the ripe version of the green ones: richer in vitamin C, but poorer in polyphenols. I usually prefer to use the red peppers, because they are sweeter to the taste.
As it is the case with most Italian recipes, the one we are going to make today was dictated by necessity of whipping up two meals a day on a budget, and the need to use ingredients most of the time already in the fridge or in the pantry. Hence the incredible variety of possible stuffing ingredients for the peppers, that basically become a shell for – often – leftovers. So, feel free to change and adapt depending on what you have handy: this might be zucchini instead of eggplant, fontina cheese instead of mozzarella, or maybe adding canned tuna or anchovies. Often, you will also find some cubed stale bread in the filling.
For 3 portions – as a main dish
3 bell peppers
1 eggplant, partially peeled and cubed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
15 (approximately) grape tomatoes, sliced
1 cup of marinara sauce*
6 oz mozzarella cheese, drained
3 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano
15 or more black olives
1 tablespoon of capers
Fennel, Oregano, Salt and Pepper, Crushed Hot Pepper Flakes as desired
1. Start the oven on convection roast, or simply convection, at 375 F
2. Rinse the bell peppers, carefully cut them in 2 symmetrical halves without breaking the exterior, remove all seeds and white parts from the interior.
3. Put the halved bell peppers on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cook in the oven for approximately 15 minutes, flipping the peppers midway. Remove the peppers but leave the oven on at 360 F.
4. In the meantime: rinse, peel partially and cut in cubes the eggplant. Put it in a nonstick pan, drizzle with EV Olive Oil, season with salt, pepper, hot pepper, oregano and fennel seeds; add 2 cloves of garlic. Sautee gently until browned.
5. Slice the grape tomatoes, add to the eggplant. Add the basil, chopped. Sautee for a couple of minutes on a high flame.
6. Add a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce, stir, add 3-4 tablespoons of water, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and cooked. Put aside.
7. In the meantime, put Mozzarella, Olives, Capers in the food processor and pulse until chopped. Careful, we don’t want a paste but rather big pieces!
8. Transfer to a bowl. Add the shelled egg, the Parmigiano, more chopped basil. Mix.
9. Add the cooled eggplant mix, 3-4 tablespoons more of tomato sauce, stir.
10. Oil an oven proof ceramic baking dish, add a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce on the bottom to avoid sticking.
11. Arrange the halved and par cooked bell peppers in it. Fill the bell peppers with the mixture of mozzarella and eggplant to the rim. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs on top.
12. Cook in the hot oven for approximately 20 minutes or until nicely browned.
13. Serve immediately!
A Few Notes:
- Eggplant: I use the deep purple roundish eggplant when in season, either the Italian or the Globe variety. Otherwise, I prefer the variety called “Chinese eggplant”, as it has less seeds. I peel the eggplant in a zebra pattern, leaving approximately half of the skin mostly for color, as I find that the skin can be a bit rubbery sometimes.
- Use salt sparely, as capers and olives are usually very salty.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.