Italian Stuffed Peppers
6 large bell peppers, tops removed and seeds cleaned out (save tops to use in filling)
1 lb. ground Italian sausage, mild or hot
½ cup yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ to 2 cups fresh Roma tomatoes, diced (about 4 tomatoes)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning, optional
1 cup cooked long grain rice
¼ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 ½ cups fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces
Salt and pepper, according to taste
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil, for garnish if desired
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash each pepper before using and cut the tops off. Use a sharp knife to remove the stem area from each top and then finely dice the remaining portion into small pieces; set aside.
Use your hand or a sharp knife to remove the core and all of the seeds from the peppers, as well as any excess membrane. Lightly grease a baking dish and place the peppers cut-side up, closely together so that they can stand upright.
In a frying pan, cook the sausage over medium heat until lightly browned. Transfer the cooked sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain any excess fat. In the same pan, add the diced onion and peppers and cook over medium heat until beginning to soften, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for two minutes, then add the diced tomatoes, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning and a pinch or two of kosher salt. Continue cooking until everything is heated through, about 3 minutes, then stir in the cooked sausage and rice. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired, then stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella until incorporated.
Fill each pepper with the sausage mixture and top each with a sprinkling of the remaining mozzarella, then finish with a tablespoon of grated parmesan cheese. Drizzle each pepper with a little olive oil, then fill the baking dish with about a ¼-inch of water or chicken stock. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, and bake until the peppers are soft to the touch and the cheese is melted and golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
To store: Store baked peppers in an airtight container for up to 3 days and reheat in microwave or a 350 degree oven until hot.
To freeze baked peppers: Cool peppers completely. Cover dish with plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil and freeze for up to 3 month. Or, place cooled peppers on a baking sheet and place in freezer until hard, at least 3 to 4 hours.
Once frozen, wrap each pepper in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to 3 months. To reheat, remove wrapping and bake at 350 degrees until hot (peppers may also be thawed overnight in refrigerator before reheating).
If making in advance:
- Prepare the peppers for stuffing, place them in a freezer bag and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before stuffing and baking.
- Prepare the sausage mixture, cool completely then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
- To make your own Italian seasoning, combine a ¼ teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano and thyme with a pinch of garlic powder and kosher salt.
- If softer peppers are desired, before stuffing them, blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes or steam for 8 to 10 minutes.
- In lieu of white rice, you could also use brown, wild or basmati rice, as well as other grains like quinoa or couscous.