Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gastronomical transformations

For years my mother teased me about a long list of foods that I balked at trying when I was a fussy toddler, many of which were destined, once the initial resistance was overcome, to be among my childhood favorites. At nine or ten years old, I had no memory of this picky phase, and couldn’t imagine what it would be like not to be thrilled to be presented with most of the items mentioned.

There were a few exceptions, though. Prominent among them was red peppers. These didn’t show up on my plate too often, but I fought eating them whenever they did; their taste was too pronounced and unfamiliar, and I wasn’t keen on the texture either. When we had stuffed peppers for dinner, I used to peel the entire pepper off the filling and give it to someone else. (To this day I’m amazed that my mother, a card-carrying member of the Clean Plate Club, let me get away with this.)

I’m also amazed to realize that, somewhere along the line between then and now (I have no idea when this actually happened), my feelings about red peppers evolved from loathing to craving--to the point where I’m constantly trying to sneak them into food. I say “sneak” because I’m now getting cosmic payback for my childhood food recalcitrance, in the form of a four-year-old who objects to the idea of peppers (“Mummy, too spicy!”) but doesn’t actually notice them in, say, tomato sauce or fried rice if they’re chopped small enough and thoroughly cooked.

They’re kind of hard to disguise in this dish, though. I let her have something else for dinner the night I made these.

Transformative stuffed peppers
I got the idea to make stuffed peppers from smitten kitchen—but other than the red pepper (oh, and the feta cheese), this recipe doesn’t bear much relation to the one that inspired it. Reading it made me realize that here was yet another vehicle for using leftovers, and a fridge-cleaning exercise ensued. This is what I had that I thought would taste good together (and it did); but this is another great opportunity for experimentation based on the contents of your own fridge. Another plus: you can do all the prep ahead of time, and just leave them assembled in the fridge until you're ready to cook them.

2 large red peppers
2 Italian sausages
3-4 cups cooked rice
½ cup cooked zucchini, chopped
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 scallion/spring onion/shallot, chopped
½ cup feta, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp pesto
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F. Halve the peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Rub with olive oil and season the insides with salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray that has been greased or lined with foil so that they look like little boats.

Remove the sausages from their casings, crumble into a frying pan, and cook the meat on medium heat until browned. Dump into a large bowl. Add all the other ingredients (except the bread crumbs) to the bowl, and mix to combine thoroughly. Stuff into the pepper shells. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the stuffed pepper feels hot upon removal. Add bread crumbs in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Makes 4 generous servings.


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