The Stuffed Bell Peppers
8 medium bell peppers, tops removed
2 lbs. fresh Portabella mushrooms, diced
1 stick butter + 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. DiVinci Orzo Pasta, pre-washed to remove starch
3 cups Swanson Vegetable Stock
2/3 cup onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
8 bell pepper tops, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. Frank Davis Vegetable Seasoning
3/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups shredded Asiago cheese, divided
1/2 cup green onions, thinly sliced
The Creole Tomato Ragu
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + 1/4 stick butter
1 cup onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, parsley mixture
6 large Creole tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tsp. Frank Davis Vegetable Seasoning
1/2 tsp. Frank Davis Sicilian Seasoning
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, minced
First, trim the tops off the 8 bell peppers and clean out the seed pod and the spongy rib parts inside of each one. In the meantime, while you're prepping the peppers, bring about two gallons of lightly salted water to a rapid boil on the stove. Then, when all the hollowed out peppers are ready, drop them into the boiling water and poach them until they just become tender crisp (you don't want them soft and mushy, but you don't want them crunchy either). When they're ready, set them aside to drain and cool.
Next, with a French knife cut the Portabella mushrooms into small, bite-size dice. Then, in a large, heavy, oval roaster or Dutch oven, melt down about half of the butter and half of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter/oil mixture is uniformly blended, drop in the mushrooms a few handfuls at a time and stir-fry them-keeping them constantly moving-until they begin to brown nicely. As the remainder of the mushrooms is added to the pot, add the remaining butter and oil as well. When they've all been browned, set them aside on the stove until you prepare the orzo.
Best way to do that is to use an electric rice cooker; but a heavy pot with a tight-fitting cover will also work well. Start off by placing the washed orzo into the cooker (or rice pot). Then pour the vegetable broth, along with the onions, celery, bell pepper tops, garlic, and vegetable seasoning, over the pasta. At this point, give the mixture a really good stir to blend everything thoroughly. Then put the lid on the cooker (or rice pot) and simmer the pasta until it becomes al dente (a rice cooker will time this out automatically, but on the stovetop it should take about 18-20 minutes). You'll know the pasta is ready when the orzo turns puffy and separates grain-for-grain.
And now it's time to create the stuffing.
Very simply, take the hot pasta right out of the rice cooker (or rice pot) and transfer it to the oval roaster in which you browned the mushrooms. I suggest you take an extra minute or two to thoroughly combine the pasta and the mushrooms, taking special care to evenly distribute the butter and olive oil. Then finish up the stuffing by folding in the sour cream, half of the Asiago cheese, and all of the green onions.
At this stage, using a tablespoon, liberally scoop the stuffing into the poached peppers. Then when they're all filled to "heaping," gently set them side-by-side in a shallow-sided baking pan and sprinkle the remaining Asiago cheese over the top. From here, the peppers go onto the center rack in a 350-degree preheated oven and bake for about 20 to 30 minutes or until the cheese turns all crusty.
While the peppers are baking, take a heavy skillet, place it on the stovetop over high heat, and melt together the olive oil and the butter to sizzling. Then drop in the onion mixture and stir-fry it until it begins to caramelize. Immediately, thereafter, drop the tomatoes into the skillet (I recommend you smush them together well with a potato masher) and sauté them over medium-high heat until a rich, saucy ragu forms.
At this point, stir in the vegetable seasoning, Sicilian seasoning, pepper flakes, white wine, and parsley and reduce the ragu for about 15 minutes until it becomes smooth and silky. Then taste it once more and adjust for additional salt and black pepper if necessary.
All that's left now is to dish up the stuffed peppers. For the absolute ultimate in flavor, serve them piping hot right from the oven, generously ladled over with a liberal splash of the hot ragu. Of course, they can also be refrigerated overnight, gently reheated the next day in the microwave oven, and garnished with the chilled ragu right at service.
Either way is great for a satisfying summertime meal to share with both family and friends!
A "ragu" is a sauce which originated in Bologna, Italy. It traditionally contains meat, tomatoes, celery, onions, garlic, wine, spices, and seasonings. It is slightly different than the French "ragout," which is more of a tomato basted stew.
The tops you cut off the bell pepper should be finely chopped and sautéed with the seasining vegetable mixture.
It isn't necessary, but you can take a teaspoon and scrape away the "gills" from the undersides of the Portabellas if you'd like to lighten up the color of the stuffing a bit. The gills will give the stuffing a darker hue.
If you use a rice pot instead of an electric rice cooker to do the orzo, you will first have to bring the stock to a rolling boil then reduce it to simmer and put the lid on tightly to begin the absorption process. Trust that the pasta won't burn on the stovetop if the flame is reduced to "extra low," so avoid lifting the lid every two to three minutes!
If you'd like to create a "super special stuffing," go ahead and add more than 2 pounds of mushrooms if you want. Just remember to sauté them in small batches so that they retain their natural juices while still turning crispy around the edges. Putting too many mushrooms into the frypan all at once will cause them to sweat and turn rubbery.
It is extremely important to "pre-wash" the orzo before making this recipe. If you don't the excess starch (which is quite prevalent) will cause the grains to stick together in a gummy wad and give the final stuffing a gritty taste.