Italian food, much like its language, varies from house to house. Dialects make it one of the most difficult to speak fluidly as a second language, especially since words can have different meanings from region to region and household to household.
The cuisine is much in the same vain. No marinara recipe is the same. Food porn trafficker Giada DiLaurentiis tells you to use carrots and celery in one of her cookbooks. New York City landmark Rao’s blend looks traditional, until you run across the call for saltpork. My father-in-law doesn’t even make marinara. He does a traditional smooth sauce, loaded with pork. Mine calls for the usual suspects — tomatoes, basil, garlic, oil, salt, wine, onions — and adds sugar to balance the flavor.
That’s just the sauce. We haven’t even touched recipes like lasagna (my f-i-l does rolls; I don’t cook my pasta and use four types of meat), or stuffed peppers. I don’t have a fond memory of my mother’s stuffed peppers, probably because like everything she cooked with ground beef, they swam in grease. My guess is that she exceeded the recipes call for olive oil by a quart or two while buying beef in the neighborhood of 70 percent lean. She used breadcrumbs for everything, including the bulking of the stuffing. This is fine, but meat and breadcrumbs are not what I would call tasty. There always seemed to be a certain lack of flavor there.
When The Wife made a comment about how she ate stuffed peppers at her mother’s house one evening while I was away recently, I thought I’d give it a go. I think that the key here is advance prep. Make some of this the night before so that the beef, rice and liquid can settle and such. And, this cuts the prep time back by half, since all you do to serve is stuff the pepper, bake and serve.
- Four bell peppers, washed, stemmed, seeded and halved
- 1# ground beef, at least 90 percent lean
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- Enough olive oil to brown the garlic
- 1/2 tbsp. dried basil and parsley
- 1 1/2 cups white or brown rice
- 6 oz. beef stock
- 28 oz. can cut tomatoes, plus 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
- salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan cheese
Heat a dash of olive oil on medium in a saucepan and add the garlic. When the garlic just begins to brown, add your meat to the pan. Using a wooden spoon, breakup the meat into smaller and smaller pieces until it can be easily browned. Let the meat cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add the broth and let reduce by half. Stir in the rice then the tomatoes, salt and herbs. Reduce heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Return to a boil and reduce heat again to medium-low. Taste at this point to check for salt and adjust accordingly. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened and there is no standing or excess liquid.
**At this point, you can remove the pan from the stove, cool the mixture and refrigerate overnight if you plan to make this in advance.**
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Stuffed each pepper with the beef-rice mixture so its packed and at least double the size. Set in a shallow baking dish, top with Parmesan cheese and bake 40 minutes. Serve hot with extra sauce, if you have it on hand.