I was always a bit suspicious of stuffed peppers. Those with rice or ground beef always seemed to me a bit on the heavy side. Standard bell peppers take forever in the oven to be well done and, for me, are too intense to eat raw or undercooked.
As I did with almost every vegetable (finicky child as I was), I eventually went from 0 to 100, from hating to loving these true vitamin C bombs, specially when barbecued. Yet, when I lived in London, I stumbled upon a variety that managed to please me even more. Italian (or roman) peppers. Big and pointy as if they were giant chillies, green or red (my faves) they have a milder and sweeter taste and a thinner flesh.
In Lisbon, they are much harder to come by, but whenever I spot them in a supermarket shelf, I make sure they come home with me. They usually end up julienned in some asian stir-fry, or grilled, in bigger pieces, as a hamburger topping or side dish.
Yesterday, I knew in advance my bottom would remain stuck to the chair all day. To avoid feeling so very guilty for the lack of time to walk or go to the gym, I decided to go pretty light on the lunch, and stuff one of those beautiful peppers that had been winking at me every time I opened the fridge. No minced beef, no rice, not even couscous (which i’m doing some other day, as I’m sure it will be very nice), the day was calling for a low-carb veggie dish.
To make sure the pepper didn’t risk being undercooked, I gave it a head start by charring it directly over the stove top flame, which brought a bonus barbecue taste to the dish. (I didn’t overdo it, as you can see from the pictures, but the burned bits aren’t quite healthy, so feel free to skip this step, and then leave it for longer in the oven.)
Mushroom and mozzarella stuffed italian red pepper
- 1 italian red pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon pine-nuts
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato puree
- 1 cup white mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 fresh mozzarella ball (omit this to make it vegan)
- Salt and pepper to taste
With the help of tongs, grill the whole pepper over the stove top’s naked flame, rotating carefully so not burn too much. Leave it cooling on a plate
In a shallow pan, dry roast the pine-nuts, and when they start to gain some colour, add the olive oil, the minced onion and garlic, and cook it over medium heat until the onion looks transparent. Add the tomato puree and the mushrooms and season them with salt and pepper. Stir-them ocasionally.
When the mushrooms have cooked down, add the cherry tomatoes and cook just for a few minute more. Turn the heat off and add the sliced basil leaves.
Turn the oven on maximum heat (mine is 250ºC)
Back to the pepper, now cool, cut the top off, put it aside and discard the seeds. Stuff the pepper with a teaspoon, adding chunks of mozzarella in between the spoonfuls of mushroom. As the filling gets to the top, push down with the spoon, so it gets more compact and fills all the space. Finish it with a chunk of cheese and cover with the top bit, like a lid.
Place it in an oven proof dish, drizzle with olive oil and scatter with a few more pine-nuts. Place it into the oven for a few minutes, until the cheese melts and the whole pepper is piping hot.
Serve with a colourful salad. (Or with rice even, I wouldn’t want you to go hungry)