Everyone loves a stuffed pepper. Or, everyone thinks they do until they dig into an unseasoned, watery vegetable filled with dry, overcooked beef. There might be a suggestion of jarred tomato sauce inside, or an overwhelming amount of cheese. But there is never a big, bold flavor statement where there so easily could be. It’s a gilded jewelry box filled with plastic toys, and I wanted to find the real treasure.
I got all of my best tools ready: I planned to dice and deep-fry, I imagined breadcrumbs and butter, I prepped piles of shredded cheese. Then, I got lazy. And that’s when I struck gold.
Turns out, tomato sauce, ground meat, and cheese are the only things you need to make excellent stuffed peppers, you just have to treat them better than that dude who always brings them to game day.
The key is to treat both the inside and the outside of the stuffed peppers as equally important parts of the meal. The pepper is not just the venue for the stuffing- it’s the opening act.
Start by rubbing down cleaned, halved bell peppers with good olive oil until they shine like new silverware. Season them lightly with salt and pepper. Cook up ground turkey or beef with plenty of salt and spices, then drench it in tomato sauce (go for the jarred stuff! live dangerously!) and toss it with well-seasoned rice or quinoa.
Finally, throw in a couple of dashes of good red wine vinegar (or other acid) until it tastes so irresistible you start wondering if you should just eat it out of the pan and forget the whole stuffed pepper thing.
But it’s about get so much better. A bit of time in the oven (while you have a damn seat and read that magazine from last November) sweetens and softens the peppers. They hold their shape but surrender easily to the side of a fork. The stuffing tumbles onto your plate in a juicy, tomato-y mess. Dinner is served, in a glistening, edible box.
I served this thinking it could have been better. It was too easy, too straightforward, and it used ingredients that were so familiar to me they felt like old high school friends. But, somehow, all of the typical elements of this dish banded together to create something uniquely delicious- I’d discovered a rare weeknight treasure.
A delicious weeknight dinner recipe that uses familiar ingredients. A true treasure!
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1/4 of an onion minced
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 3 bell peppers red, orange, and/or yellow, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 ½ cups tomato sauce
- 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa
- ½ cup parmesan
- 1-2 tsp red wine vinegar to taste
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella
Set oven to 400°F. Heat a 12-inch skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté about 2 minutes, until garlic is fragrant. Add ground turkey, salt, garlic powder, oregano, and parsley and cook 4 to 5 minutes until turkey is cooked through.
Add 1 cup tomato sauce, mix well and simmer on low for about 5 minutes. Add cooked quinoa, then stir in parmesan cheese and 1 tsp red wine vinegar. Taste, add more vinegar if it needs to be punchier, more salt if it needs to be saltier (maybe some freshly cracked black pepper if you like that).
Spread remaining ½ cup tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Season bell peppers with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange them on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Spoon some of the turkey mixture into each pepper half, and top each with about 1 tablespoon mozzarella cheese.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for about 40-45 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and serve.
I would suggest a red wine with ripe fruit flavors such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Zinfandel. These types of wines will pair nicely with the bell pepper’s subtle tang and earthiness and the stuffing’s savory richness.