Stuffed bell peppers with smoked mozzarella

Real talk: I live in food-delivery central. Thanks to all the tech folks around here, we’ve got a thriving on-demand economy, including multiple services that will bring a restaurant order straight to your door. I don’t even have to step outside my apartment to get my favorite Thai fried rice, delivered warm and spicy and exactly how I like it. And unfortunately, that makes it really easy to fall off the cooking wagon.

Lately, with work ramping up its stress levels and the summer drought-heat sapping my energy, I’ve been spending way too much money on greasy takeout. It’s not like there’s no food in the house; the freezer is stocked with my favorite meal building-blocks, like sweet potato filling and tomato sauce and egg rolls. But it’s the instant gratification that gets me, the siren song of something filling and unhealthy that requires no effort on my part. No chopping, no stirring, no dishes–just a delivery fee and some wasted plastic containers. It’s a terrible habit to fall into, and a terribly easy one too.

This week, I’ve committed to breaking the habit. I’ve been allowing myself to cook stuff on a whim, to run to the grocery store every day if I want to. I’ve also been leaving myself with leftover ingredients, so that I’m forced to find ways to put them to use.

This is my latest leftover use-up, and a really delicious one. It started with some smoked mozzarella, which I bought because it was the cheapest mozzarella option at Trader Joe’s. I snacked on some of it, crumbled some of it onto pizza, and then was left with a nubbin of cheese and no plan for it. I had an unused bell pepper, along with some leftover steamed rice (from, uh, Thai takeout). Mixed up with a few pantry staples and some scallions, the rice and cheese became a rich, smoky, slightly spicy stuffing for the bell peppers. It was indulgent without being greasy, which was exactly what I was craving. Suddenly I had a Sunday night dinner that was fresh, nourishing, and totally impossible to call up through an app.

stuffed pepper smoked mozzarella

Stuffed Bell Peppers with Smoked Mozzarella (serves 2 generously, or 4 daintily)

Adapted from this recipe

2 large green bell peppers

Salt to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

1 bunch (6-8) scallions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes, or to taste

1/4 cup vegetable broth or water

1 1/2 cups leftover cooked rice (white or brown)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup pitted black or green olives, roughly chopped

4 oz smoked mozzarella, crumbled (about 1 1/2 cups crumbled)

Finely grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and ribs. Sprinkle the inside of each cut half with a pinch of salt, then place the peppers cut side down on paper towels to drain while you make the filling.

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add scallions and a pinch of salt and sweat for 3-4 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until fragrant. Add tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and chile flakes, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add water and stir until the tomato paste dissolves. Add rice and mix thoroughly, cooking until the rice is coated with the seasoning mixture and any excess liquid in the pan is gone.

Taste the rice mixture and season lightly with salt and black pepper to taste (remember, the peppers already have some salt in them). Transfer the rice mixture to a bowl and let cool, stirring occasionally, until it’s no longer hot. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400º F and position a rack in the middle.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and place the pepper halves cut side up on the baking sheet. Add the olives and crumbled mozzarella to the rice mixture, and toss to combine. Divide the rice-and-cheese mixture evenly among the four pepper halves, and sprinkle each half generously with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the peppers are just tender and the cheese on top is golden.

Remove the peppers from the oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately.

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