Here in Utah, September ushers in Fall weather. Unlike Texas or the Southern California Desert, where temperatures are still in the 90s, today’s high won’t reach 69 degrees until two or three in the afternoon. For us, it’s time to yank out the delicious Fall recipes that have been sitting in the shadows all summer, and these jumbo stuffed bell peppers are a nice way to kick off the new season.
Utah has a very short growing season. We feel lucky if we can scrape together a full 90 days before temperatures drop and garden veggies stop producing.
On the average our growing season only nets about 75 days or so, making it difficult to grow more than salad fixings and a few pre-started early tomatoes before they freeze on the vine. Most of our produce is imported from California, Mexico, and other areas of the world.
Even roadside stands do not offer local produce.
While a few areas of the state do have true farmer’s markets, they are relatively rare statewide. We do most of our produce shopping at Sprouts, WinCo, and Costco because even the organic produce sold here is still picked and shipped when its green and often of low quality.
Last week, we happened to run across a few jumbo-sized bell peppers at Winco. They were at least twice the normal size, so my mind instantly flew to stuffing them. Although, I’ve tried my hand at stuffing bell peppers numerous times, I’ve never been able to get them to turn out exactly the way I wanted them to be.
Most recipes told me to pour tomato sauce over the top of the peppers, after stuffing and before popping them into the oven. That looked nice in the pan, especially with a little grated cheese on top, but after baking, the peppers were a watery mess. The cheese slid off and was floating on the top of the sauce in the bottom of the pan instead of garnishing the peppers.
This time, I decided to just wing it instead.
The Image of Stuffed Bell Peppers in My Head
It took me awhile to catch on to what was really going on at Pinterest.
Pinterest is a great search engine for food related articles, recipes, and pictures, but most of those pictures that have been pinned from food blogs are either stock photos, professional shots, or photos of what the dish looks like at its most appetizing point.
Few give you an accurate picture of what the recipe will look like when you get ready to serve it to your family.
In my head, I had the image of a stuffed bell pepper that looked pretty much like it did when I first tucked it into the oven. I wanted the filling to be thick and the cheese still sitting on the top of the pepper when I served it up. That’s the type of stuffed peppers I remember eating as a child.
I wasn’t fussy about whether the peppers were standing up or laying on their side. However, since these were jumbo-sized bell peppers we’d picked up, I cut them in half lengthwise and laid them on their side. I didn’t want them falling over during the baking process. I am also not picky about the color. These just happened to be green.
How I Created My Own Recipe for Stuffed Bell Peppers
With that image in mind, I set to work creating my own recipe for stuffing bell peppers. Since the pepper part of the recipe was fairly standard, I focused on the filling first.
I had some leftover white rice in the refrigerator, so I didn’t need to make it up fresh. You could use brown rice, if you want. Although, hubby prefers brown to white, I can’t eat brown rice, so I just used what I could eat.
Since the peppers I remembered eating had a red, Italian-flavored stuffing, I thought a traditional spaghetti sauce, made thicker than you’d normally make it for pasta, would work best. A thicker sauce would also intensify the seasonings.
I made the meat sauce with less tomato sauce than I ordinarily would to cut down on simmering time and guarantee that the meat sauce would be thick and rich. Since there are just two of us, I normally separate bulk packages of ground beef into 12 ounce portions and freeze.
Leaving the chopped bell peppers out of my usual spaghetti sauce recipe, I just used ground beef, onions, garlic, and traditional Italian seasonings. I then cooked the sauce until it was as thick as stew.
What I didn’t know was how much rice to add to the meat sauce, so I just started with one part cooked rice to two parts cooked meat sauce. Once I blended the two together, it looked perfect as it was, so I left it that way. If you prefer a different ratio, just use what you like instead.
Hubby and I prefer very soft bell peppers, so I par-baked the peppers before stuffing them. Not everyone does that. Once stuffed, I finished baking the peppers, but withheld the cheese until the last 10 minutes, so it only had time to melt on top.
The result was a pan filled with beautiful stuffed peppers. Hubby was so excited when he saw them that he took the pan outside to get the best picture possible.
Jumbo Stuffed Pepper Recipe (Gluten-Free)
Everything I make is gluten free, but if you don’t do dairy, you can just leave off the cheese. Everything up to that point is gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF).
For the tomato sauce, I used Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Sauce, and for the spices, I used Shur Saving, both available at Costco. Personally, I don’t do well with beet sugars, so I only use pure cane sugar.
If you don’t have jumbo-sized bell peppers, this recipe makes enough filling for several medium-sized peppers. You can either slice off the top and pre-bake them standing up, or slice them lengthwise and lay them on their side like I did. The recipe will work either way.
The olives are not mandatory, but really added a lot of flavor to the filling. We had picked up a couple of cans from the dollar store, an off-brand, so they were a bit on the crunchy side. They worked great in this pepper filling though.
- 12 ounces ground beef
- 1/2 cup chopped onions, or more
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 16-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasonings
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 tablespoons pure cane brown sugar
- seasoning salt to taste
- 1/2 can black olives, sliced
- 2 jumbo bell peppers
- 1-1/2 cups cooked rice
- grated cheese, about 2 ounces
In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, onions, and garlic until well browned. I used a non-stick enamel-coated frying pan, since I was going to turn this into a thick sauce. Drain off any accumulated fat and liquid in the pan.
Add tomato sauce, seasonings, and olives. Let the mixture simmer on low heat, stirring often, until it’s nice and thick. I let it cook about an hour.
When the sauce was almost done, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees.
Slice the peppers either in half lengthwise or across the top. Dig out as much of the pith and seeds as possible. This leaves more room for the filling. Place the peppers in a 9 x 13 pan, cut side up, and add about an inch of water to the bottom. Cover with foil. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the pepper. If you’re using small peppers, 20 minutes might be enough.
Remove the peppers from the oven, and carefully drain off the water. I just placed the peppers on my giant cutting board while I did this. Return the peppers to the bake dish.
Add the cooked rice to the meat sauce. Since I was using cold rice, I heated it up in the microwave for a minute first, just long enough to soften the rice a bit. The sauce is thick, so I didn’t know how much of the sauce the rice was going to soak up in the oven.
Stuff the peppers, packing them tightly. I had enough filling to make them fairly level. If you have enough filling to mound them up slightly, that would be okay. Cover the bake dish and return the peppers to the oven for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of the peppers and whether you’re adding cheese.
Smaller peppers might not need to bake this long, since they’re going back into the oven after topping with cheese. I normally have cheese already pre-grated in the refrigerator and stored in a plastic zip-lock bag. This saves time, especially when I’m only using an ounce or two. Two ounces is about a half a cup of cheese, but I didn’t measure. I just mounded up the cheese on each pepper.
Return the peppers back to the oven without the cover. You want the cheese to melt, so I let them bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. If you like your cheese browned on top, then just cook them longer.
These sat for about 15 minutes before we ate them, giving the filling time to set up and cool down a bit.
Feature Photo: Slymart35, Pixabay, CC0