Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

When I asked the Bald Guy what he thought of when he pictured stuffed peppers (after he snickered at whatever Beavis joke was running through his head..."heheh...she said 'stuffed'" - we're such a perfect match), he pulled a Billy Idol sneer and described soggy green bell peppers filled with an unappetizing and oversalted mush of cheap ground beef, rice, and bland seasonings.

Well, said I. THIS stuffed pepper's gonna be different, By Golly!
And Gee Willickers!

And it was. There are so many ways you could tweak this recipe and get a fun, presentable dish, either for a light main course or an elegant side. I was pleased with the flavor of these, and the richness of the colour makes for a fun splash of vibrancy on your plate. A partial list of different optional ingredients is listed as well - you can put just about anything in these peppers!

This recipe is significantly altered from one by Giada De Laurentiis.

Orzo Stuffed Peppers

1 can diced tomatoes, well-drained (OR one can fancy salsa with one diced fresh tomato, 'cause that's how I roll. And what was in the cabinet)
1 carrot, shredded (use a box grater, like you do for cheese)
1/2 c. shredded cilantro. Or mint. Or basil. Something fresh and green and...shredded. (DON'T use a box grater! Unless you want to lose your fingerprints. Use a knife or just rip the leaves by hand.)
1/2 c. parmesan or other flavorful cheese, plus more for sprinkling (I used a parmesan/romano mix inside the peppers and feta to sprinkle on top)
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil plus 1 T. for sauteeing
1/2 c. red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. salt
1 t. black pepper*
4 c. chicken broth
1.5 c. orzo pasta
4-6 sweet red or yellow bell peppers
(the number could vary depending on how many people you're feeding, how big the peppers are, and how much the gnomes that inhabit your pots and pans expand the orzo when you're not looking. I swear we had orzo for DAYS out of just 1.5 cups)

Optional Ingredients:
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1/3 c. chopped pecans or walnuts or almonds
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts
Grated zucchini
Diced ham or chopped bacon
Flaked salmon
The tops and bottoms of the peppers that you chop off, finely diced

Preheat the oven to 400F.

In a small pan, gently sautee the chopped onion in a T. of oil on medium heat until just translucent (2-3 minutes), then add the garlic and sautee until the garlic is just golden (1 minute or so). Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the tomatoes, carrot, chopped fresh basil/mint/cilantro/whatever, cheese, olive oil, and the onion and garlic.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the orzo and cook for 4 minutes (which will be shorter than package directions). The orzo should be only partially cooked. Use a fine mesh sieve to transfer the orzo to join its yummy ingredient-mates in the large bowl. Imagine how the orzo greets the other ingredients in a high, squeaky voice. Say, "What??" defensively when your husband lifts an inquisitive eyebrow at your oddness.

Transfer some of the warm chicken broth to a 3-quart baking dish - enough to fill it about 1/4-1/3 full.

Slice the tops off the peppers and remove the ribs and seeds. Cut a very thin slice from the base to help the peppers stand up.

Fill 'em up with the yummy mixture and plop 'em into the baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle some cheese and maybe a few extra little shredded herby bits on top, and continue baking until the cheese is nice and golden, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully transfer the stuffed peppers to your plate, and then your belly.

*When I say, "ground black pepper," I mean get out your little pepper grinder that your well-meaning Aunt Tiffany gave you when you finally got your own apartment, and use it. If you're using pre-ground black pepper, you might as well be scraping the dust off the boxes in the back of the attic and using that as seasoning. I ain't picky about much, but using freshly ground black pepper's one of them.

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