Sicilian Style Stuffed Bell Peppers: Pipareddi Ripieni

StuffedpepperEDTLG

It was a real treat for my sister and me when our mother made stuffed bell peppers.  As children, we were not fond of eating meat, but these peppers—filled with a savory rice and meat stuffing and topped with tomato sauce—made us forget that there was actually meat in the dish.  I’ve since overcome my dislike for meat, but I still favor recipes that lean more towards the vegetarian side.

My mom liked to serve these as an appetizer or side dish, but they are really a meal in itself.  I like to serve them as a main course with a green salad and crusty Italian bread.

Be as creative as you like in preparing this dish.  You can use any color bell pepper you desire.  I sometimes use brown rice or a mixture of white rice and wild rice.

Sicilian Style Stuffed Bell Peppers
(Pipareddi/Peperoni Ripieni)

Difficulty Rating: Easy
Makes 6 servings.

FOR THE STUFFING:
6 medium bell peppers, tops cut off, seeds and membranes remove
4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup rice
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 medium onion (about ¾ cup), chopped
3/4 cup celery, chopped
4 ounces mushrooms (about 1 1/4 cups), chopped
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 pound Italian pork sausage (mild or hot)
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup currants or raisins
3 Tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
2 Tablespoons Italian parsley leaves, minced
Salt and fresh ground pepper

FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup minced onion
1 (14-ounce) can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
Sugar, salt and fresh ground pepper

1) MAKE THE TOMATO SAUCE:  Heat olive oil in a small sauce pan, add the onions and saute until soft and transparent.  Add the tomato sauce and 1/3 cup water.  Season with sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.  Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) MAKE THE STUFFING:  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large covered saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add the rice and stir until it begins to get lightly colored.  Browning the rice lightly helps to keep the grains separated.  Add chicken broth, cover with lid, and cook over low heat until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.  Transfer to a medium bowl.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan, and sauté onion and celery over medium-low heat until onions start to brown and become transparent, about 4 minutes.  Add to the rice.

Using the same frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute mushrooms for about 2 minutes over medium-low heat.  Add to the rice.

Using the same frying pan again, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and brown the ground beef and sausage over medium-high heat.  Drain and add to rice mixture.  Add 1/4 cup grated cheese, currants, pine nuts, and parsley, and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3) ASSEMBLE THE PEPPERS:  If necessary, cut a little off the bottom of the pepper so that it stands upright.  Place a layer of the tomato sauce to the bottom of a baking dish.  Stuff each pepper with the rice mixture, slightly mounding on the top.  Place the stuffed peppers upright in the baking dish, spoon a small amount of the sauce on top of each pepper, sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.  Bake 30-35 minutes, until peppers are tender when pierced with a fork.

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