During the long, hot August afternoons of my childhood, many mothers in our neighborhood were likely at the “Y-pool” or taking a little rest with shades drawn against the summer sun. There was little air conditioning in those days but, nevertheless, my mother could always be found in our steaming hot kitchen.
Summer produce that was overflowing at the market stands meant long hours cooking to take advantage of the bounty. My mother, Rose, made big pots of chicken corn soup with little dumplings called rivels (not Italian, I know, but all that corn out there!). And August was the time she searched for “sugar beets,” large varieties that she roasted, peeled, cut into thick slices and doused with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Then there were the tomatoes. My mom had no food processor but used her trusty blender to puree ripe red tomatoes and freeze them in plastic containers for wintertime sauces.
I can remember the smell of green peppers roasting under the broiler (no gas grill back then). When they were blackened on all sides, my mother placed them in a brown bag to “steam” so that the skins could easily be removed. The large gallon can of olive oil was brought from the pantry to bathe the silky peppers. My family did indeed buy olive oil by the gallon.
Late summer was also the perfect time to stuff those big, green peppers. And we loved them. My mother made a mixture of browned ground beef, onion and cooked rice, stuffed them into cut pepper halves and covered them with her homemade tomato sauce. For us, they were a great summer dinner.
Today, recipes can be found for stuffed peppers of all kinds: green, bright red and even yellow and orange. If you have never been a fan of stuffed peppers, you must get past the soggy image of those served in your grade school cafeteria. Made properly, stuffed peppers are a great addition to a summer buffet table or make a great lunch or brighten an antipasto platter.
Here is a very good version for the unfairly maligned stuffed pepper. The recipe makes use of summertime ingredients at their peak—red and yellow bell peppers, ripe tomatoes and sweet basil.
Baked Stuffed Red and Yellow Peppers (from Giuliano Hazan)
- 1 slice white sandwich bread
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow bell pepper
- 8 ounces (1/2 pound) ripe tomatoes
- 10 Nicoise olives (or other Greek olives)
- 4 ounces (1/4 pound) Pecorino (Romano) cheese
- 8 basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for the baking dish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Trim the crust from the bread and put it in a small bowl with the milk.
- Cut the peppers in half and then core and seed them.
- Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds, cut them in small dices (1/4 inch) and place them in a medium bowl.
- Chop the basil and add it to the bowl with the tomatoes.
- Chop the olive flesh and add that to the tomato bowl as well.
- Cut half the Pecorino cheese into small dices and add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
- Squeeze the bread slice to form a pulp and mix it thoroughly into the other ingredients along with the olive oil and salt and pepper.
- Oil the bottom of the baking dish with olive oil and place the pepper halves in the pan.
- Divide the tomato filling among the 4 pepper halves.
- Thinly slice the remaining cheese and lay the slices on top of each pepper.
- Bake the tomatoes about 45 minutes to an hour, but watch carefully. The cheese should gently melt and not burn.
You can serve the peppers warm or at room temperature. They are great for the vegetarians among you, and, like so many Italian dishes, they taste like summer. The peppers are a great accompaniment to grilled chicken, tuna and steak, as well.
Entertaining a crowd? Make a lot of them using red, yellow and green peppers. Garnish the platter with sprigs of fresh basil. I promise: No one will remember the school cafeteria.