~ Joy's Italian-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers ~
I usually make stuffed peppers once a year, in the Fall, when Joe has an excess of peppers in his garden (as pictured here). When I'm using poblano peppers, I make a Mexican-seasoned version, and, when I'm using bell peppers I go to Italian-American seasonings. While picking up a short list of staples for this weekend, I found some big, beautiful bell peppers at Wegman's today, which fast-tracked me into writing this blog post. Joe will be pleased as he really enjoys these!
"Mango" is a term for "green bell pepper"? Surprisingly, yes!
Here's how I found out:
I did not grow up eating stuffed bell peppers because my mother didn't like "mangoes" once they were cooked. "Mango", you ask with a confused look... "Isn't that a fruit?" Yes, a mango is a fruit, but, when I was growing up, that is what my mom called green bell peppers, and, it's what I called them too. I never knew why, until I married Joe back in 1980 and he asked me to make "Italian" stuffed bell peppers. Having no recipe, I went to my #1 reference and recipe source at the time: the 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking. While reading what they had to say about stuffing bell peppers, they pointed out that while perplexing, mango is a common midwestern term for a green bell pepper!
Here's the semi-confusing but fascinating story:
Sometime after the early settlers arrived in America, the East Indies began shipping mangoes (the fruit) to the colonies. Because the trip was long and there was no means of refrigeration, what arrived was no longer fresh fruit. They arrived in a pickled, kind of fermented state. Americans, understandably, began associating the word mango with anything that could be pickled and pickled dishes in general. Here's one example: "pickled pears", or, "a mango of pears". One of the most popular mangoes of the period was made by stuffing green peppers with spiced cabbage and pickling the stuffed peppers whole. This concoction remained so popular for so long, that, as people moved into the midwest, even unpickled green peppers were referred to as mangos!
Fast forward to the depression (the era of my grandmother). Hungry and broke, midwestern farmers shipped unripened "mangoes" all over the country out of necessity (green bell peppers are unripened, red bell peppers are fully-ripened). What did we Americans do with their midwestern "mangoes"? We do what we do best: we got creative. We stuffed chopped meats, on-hand diced vegetables and/or leftover grains, bread products or starches (like barley, breadcrumbs, rice or potatoes) into them and invented ways to roast, bake or steam them!
I'm crediting The Joy of Cooking for the inspiration for this recipe, but, if you've got a copy of this edition of the book, you won't find it or anything close to it. I used their proportions for "Green Peppers Stuffed with Rice and Meat" on page 315 as a gauge. Past that, this recipe is all me!
2 cups uncooked, extra-long grain white rice
4 cups water, minus 4 tablespoons
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
Note: You can find my post ~ How to: Cook Perfect White Rice on the Stovetop ~ in Categories 4 or 15!
6 large, even-sized bell peppers, preferably ones that can stand up by themselves without rolling over, green or red, or, a combination of both (Note: I like the slightly bitter taste of green ones and Joe likes the sweeter taste of red ones. They look pretty too!)
1 1/2 pounds extra-lean ground beef (95/5)
1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, broken up into small pieces
1 cup diced yellow or sweet onion
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon each: cracked black pepper and red pepper flakes
For the add-ins and topping:
2 cups cooked white rice, at room temperature or slightly warm, plus, remaining 2-3 cups of rice for preparing casserole
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, total throughout recipe, 1 cup for the meat mixture, 1 cup to stir into the remaining 2-3 cups of rice mentioned above (Note: You can find ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ recipe in Categories 8, 12 or 22. Because it is bursting with bold garlic and fresh basil flavor, I do not add these spices when sauteing my meat. If you are using a store-bought brand of sauce, season the meat to your liking, accordingly, depending upon how well seasoned the sauce is.)
8 ounces grated fontina cheese, for topping stuffed peppers
red pepper flakes, for topping peppers
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole
~ Step 1. To trim and clean the peppers: Using a chef's knife, slice a flat section from the top of the pepper (cut the top off of each pepper). Next, using a pair of kitchen shears, clip the white (bitter) rib and seed section from the center by clipping down between the flesh and each rib until you reach the bottom. In less than one minute per pepper, you will have formed six perfect "pepper cups" for placing the stuffing in...
... Arrange the pepper cups, side-by-side in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole and set aside.
Over medium-high heat, saute, stirring frequently, until meat is just cooked through and has lost its red color, breaking it up into bits and pieces with a spatula as it cooks, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
~ Step 5. Lightly spoon the meat mixture into the pepper cups, right to the very top of each, mounding it slightly towards the center. Do not pack it in. The stuffing mixture will expand when it bakes.
Note: Do not worry if you have meat mixture leftover. If you do, you will be using any and all leftovers it in the next step.
Stir any and all remaining meat mixture into the rice mixture. In the event you have really large peppers, and have no meat mixture leftover, don't worry about it. This is one of those recipes that revolves around the size of the peppers. Briefly remove the stuffed peppers from the casserole dish -- they are very stable at this point.
~ Step 7. Spray the casserole with no stick spray. Spoon in the rice/meat mixture, distributing it evenly across the bottom. This rice is going to be a bed to sit the pepper cups on, and, is will absorb all of the wonderful pepper juices as the stuffed peppers cook. Return stuffed peppers, slightly apart, to casserole.
Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes, or, until the side of any one pepper, when pricked with a fork is tender but not soft. Remove from oven and rest 10-15 minutes.
Pick and plate your favorite pepper (I like green), slice...
Special Equipment List: 4-quart stockpot w/lid (for cooking rice); cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; spatula; large spoon; fork; hand-held cheese grater; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschuti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's KItchen/Copyright 2013)