My cooking mentor and former mother-in-law, Haya, would make a different version of this classic recipe every time she prepared it. She used long grain rice, but I prefer using Arborio ever since I tasted a version prepared by a good friend who owns an Italian restaurant. But, I credit Haya with teaching me how to make this crowd pleaser, as I credit her with teaching me how to buy the best produce at open air markets, introducing me to Mediterranean cooking, and creating dishes around what is fresh and in season.
These stuffed peppers are best when made a day ahead of serving. Leftovers freeze well, and it is always a pleasant reminder of an afternoon's labor to pull out a few frozen servings of this dish on a cold winter's night. Haya did not place mozzarella balls in her version - that is also a tip I learned from my chef friend. —Bevi
6 or more
whole red peppers, or any color of your choice
For the Meat Filling
Arborio rice, uncooked
finely chopped onion
currants - OPTIONAL
1 plus cups
mini buffalo mozzarella balls, packed in herbed olive oil; OR 6 chunks of mozzarella, formed into 1 inch balls
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
For the Tomato Sauce
carrot, finely chopped
celery, finely chopped
tomato paste, with more to add if the sauce needs thickening at the end of cooking
Pomi chopped tomatoes, OR 2 14oz cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
Start the tomato sauce. Pour the olive oil in a large Dutch oven pot over medium flame. Add the onions, then the garlic, then the carrots, and then the celery and saute until the onion is translucent.
Add the tomato paste and stir in fully to blend. Then, add the diced tomatoes, and again stir until blended. Then, add the wine and cook for a few minutes. Then, add the stock or water. Add fresh herbs of your choice, and cook the sauce over low heat. After a while, add the sugar. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare the filling for the red bell peppers. Please note that fire roasted tomatoes will give the sauce a mildly spicy favor, which some people prefer.
Begin the meat filling. Place all the filling ingredients (note: about 3/4 cup parmesan) EXCEPT the mozzarella balls into a glass bowl, and carefully mix the ingredients so they are well blended.
Slice the tops off the peppers, and remove all seeds. Place the filling in the peppers, but make a hole in the filling you have put in the pepper with your finger so you can insert a mozzarella ball in the center of the pepper as you stuff it.
If the tomato sauce looks like it is somewhat firm and reduced, place the stuffed peppers in the Dutch oven. You may fit them in snugly. Liberally spoon some tomato sauce on and over each stuffed pepper. NOTE: it is going to look like there is not much sauce, but as the stuffed peppers bake in the oven, the peppers and all the vegetables in the meat filling will give off lots of liquid, so in the end there will be plenty of sauce.
Bring to a low boil, cover, and then place the Dutch oven into the oven to bake for at least an hour, and more likely two. Baste the peppers by spooning sauce into the peppers so the arborio rice absorbs liquid. Repeat the basting occasionally.
Test for doneness by taking a tiny taste of rice in one pepper. If the rice is done, you have a few choices. 1) Place a little parmesan cheese over each pepper, and return to the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve. 2) Pull the peppers from the oven, allow them to cool, and refrigerate. If you want to serve them the next day (they will taste even better) take the peppers out of the fridge and allow them to come to room temperature. You can heat them on top of the stove, covered. Test the sauce for desired thickness - adding more tomato paste to stir if necessary.
Serve by slicing each pepper in half, topped with some sauce. Note: One pepper is a very hearty serving.