It wasn’t until age 32 that I ate my first stuffed bell pepper. I even made it myself.
Neither of our parents made stuffed peppers. In fact, my mom hated peppers. Stuffed peppers became like eggplants in my mind. I added them to the list of foods I watched TV chefs prepare in utter fascination and hoped to try someday when I was older.
On a recent trip to the library I rented Nonna’s House which compiles recipes from the Italian grandmothers who work at Enoteca Maria, a restaurant in Staten Island. At Enoteca Maria, Italian grandmothers take turns leading the kitchen and sharing their family recipes. One evening I prepared my first batch of stuffed peppers following Margherita Amato’s recipe. They baked up beautifully and tasted even better. We enjoyed the leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This time, I tweaked the recipe some more. The most intriguing part of Amato’s recipe is how the sweet dried fruit plays against the meat, cheese, and savory seasonings. We always have craisins and almonds in the house and these make perfect swaps for raisins and pine nuts. Who can afford pine nuts, anyway? And when you add the white wine to the meat and aromatics and reduce it to almost nothing, you’re left with a really complex flavor that draws you back for more.
I serve the stuffed peppers with pasta tossed with butter, olive oil, and parsley. Serve them with anything you’d like.
Bell Peppers Stuffed With Sweet & Savory Turkey & Quinoa Filling
Adapted from Margherita Amato’s recipe published in Nonna’s House.
Cook’s Notes: This recipe should fill 12 bell pepper halves. I bake them in two casserole dishes. Depending on the size of your peppers, you may have a little too much or too little filling. You could always stretch your filling with a little more quinoa or remove one pepper half and save it for later. Regarding the wine, I just use a $3 Chuck from Trader Joe’s. For this particular batch, I used Pinot Grigio but another variety would do as long as it’s not too sweet.
1 cup cooked quinoa (I cook in chicken broth, like rice. 2.1 ratio of water to rice)
Six bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 carrot, finely diced
1 large rib of celery, finely diced
1 small onion or half of a large, finely diced
Salt & black pepper
(optional) Crushed red pepper
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup dry white wine (I used $3 Chuck Pinot Grigio)
1 cup marinara sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
3 tablespoons craisins
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped parsley
About 4 oz. mozzarella diced into tiny cubes (a little over half of one fresh ball)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese
- While you are prepping the veggies, cook the quinoa. Rinse quinoa well (the grains have a bitter coating) and cook in a small saucepan like you would rice. Add about 1/2 cup of quinoa to the pan along with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Set aside
- Halve, seed, and de-stem peppers. Arrange in two pans.
- In a large pan, saute the diced carrot, celery, and onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until tender and the edges just begin to brown. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- Add the ground turkey. Cook and break up with a spoon. Season with salt, pepper and some crushed red pepper if desired. Be careful not to add too much salt if the broth you cook your quinoa in is salty.
- Pour in one cup of white wine. Let the mixture simmer until most of the liquid has reduced.
- Remove from heat and stir in the quinoa, marinara sauce, garlic, almonds, craisins, and parsley. Stir in the cubed mozzarella when the mixture has slightly cooled.
- Taste the filling and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. If the mixture is too dry, add more marinara sauce. You want the filling to hold together, though, and not be runny.
- Using a smaller spoon, fill each pepper half with meat mixture.
- Bake at 350-375 degrees until the peppers are tender – they should look a bit wilted and the edges will brown.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and a little more parsley before serving.