Whatever Floats Your Peppers

It was just your average weekday night wondering what to make for dinner. My inspiration came from large beautiful orange bell peppers that my husband brought home from the produce stand. He bought numerous fruits and vegetables, but these orange peppers were perfect and abundant. I considered what to make that would utilize these peppers when my husband suggested stuffed peppers. Perfect! Stuffed peppers it is! But what should I stuff them with-I had no protein like sausage, ground beef or chicken defrosted, so what could I do? Then I eyed up the bag of Trader Joe's mini meatballs realizing how quick and easy I was about to make a usually elaborate dish of stuffed peppers. I chose to add lots of vegetables and only a small amount of diced meatballs to make this meal more figure friendly. My vegetables included frozen artichokes and spinach. If your local supermarket carries frozen artichokes, then definitely buy the frozen instead of canned artichokes. The true flavor of an artichoke is preserved in the frozen variety. I also decided to make my own tomato sauce for this recipe which is quite simple and beats a store bought jarred Ragu or Prego any day. This is what I came up with.

Lizzy M. Stuffed Peppers

2 Orange, Red or Yellow Bell Peppers (1 pepper per person-say that 10 times!)
6 oz. Frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, roughly chopped
4-6 oz. Frozen chopped spinach, thawed
6 Mini frozen meatballs or 4 large frozen meatballs chopped
1/2 Large yellow onion diced
1 Garlic cloves grated or minced
4 Tomato slices
2 Provolone cheese slices
1/2 Shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
1 Tbsp Oregano
1 tbsp Italian Seasoning

Lizzy M.'s Tomato Sauce

Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sauteing
Dash Crushed red pepper
1/2 Large yellow onion diced
1 Tbsp Oregano
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning
1 Tsp Thyme
1 Tbsp Tomato Paste
2 Garlic cloves grated or minced
1/4 Cup Dry red wine
Drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 8-oz can of crushed tomato (usually comes in 16 oz cans-use half or all depending upon how much sauce you want)

Salt and Pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Start by preparing the tomato sauce allowing for plenty of time for the flavors to marry. On medium to high heat, drizzle a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil and add a dash of crushed red pepper to give the sauce a hint of heat in the background. Add the chopped onions to the heated saucepan and stir to coat the onions thoroughly in the olive oil. Salt and pepper the onions. Then add 1 tablespoon of both oregano and Italian seasoning as well as 1 tsp of thyme and mix. Cover the saucepan while the onions cook for about 3 minutes. With a microplane grate 2 garlic cloves over the saucepan or just mince the garlic and transfer to the saucepan. Mix well and let the garlic cook for just a minute before adding the tomato paste. Again mix the paste well into the pan and cook for a minute. Add the dry red wine, balsamic vinegar and sugar at this point. Stir as ingredients incorporate and lastly add the crushed tomatoes. Lower heat, cover, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Prepare the peppers by carefully cutting a circle around the stem of the pepper then pull out the stem. Use a melon baller or spoon to scrape out the remaining membranes and seeds on the inside of the pepper. Lightly drizzle the peppers with extra virgin olive oil on the inside and out and season with a dash of salt and pepper. Place the peppers in a deep casserole dish ready to be stuffed.

To prepare the stuffing for the peppers, add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to a hot saute pan. Add chopped onions, oregano, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and saute for 3 minutes. Next add the chopped meatballs, cook for 3-5 minutes before adding the artichokes and spinach. Mix well, cook for another 2 minutes then finally add the grated or minced garlic. Stir the mixture as it cooks another minute. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper here if needed.

Time to stuff some peppers! Add a spoonful of tomato sauce to the bottom of each pepper and a few spoonfuls to the bottom of the casserole dish. Cut the 2 slices of provolone cheese into 4 quarters. Place 2 quarters of the provolone in the pepper. Fill the peppers halfway with the meatball and vegetable mixture. Next place a tomato slice, a quarter of the provolone and a pinch of shredded cheese in each pepper. Finally, spoon the remaining meatball and vegetable mixture into each pepper before topping with another tomato slice and the remainder of both the provolone and shredded cheeses.
Cover your casserole dish with either a lid or aluminum foil. To prevent the cheese from sticking to the lid or foil, spray it with non stick cooking spray. Bake for 30 minutes.
I served this stuffed pepper with thin whole wheat spaghetti tossed with the remaining tomato sauce and fresh basil and oregano. A fresh salad or spaghetti squash would go beautifully as well; or serve the pepper solo with fresh hot garlic bread.

This recipe can be changed in a multitude of ways. Stuff your pepper with whatever you have on hand. Get rid of the meatballs and add some eggplant and mushrooms for a vegetarian meal. Ground sausage, ground beef, veal, turkey or chicken would all work just as well in this recipe. Have fun with the ingredients you have, and don't be afraid to use them in different ways.

Happy cooking! Stuff some peppers!

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