from one generation to the next
Heralding the arrival of autumn, the produce shelves are groaning with sweet peppers, fire engine red and yellow lime green, sunset hues of orange and gold. Long, skinny and curvaceous, taut, squat and plump, they are full of promise. I load them into my shopping basket by the kilo. Running through my head is a pepper party, ratatouille, caponata, stuffed peppers, north African eggs, roasted pepper salad, preserved peppers, peperonata.
Stuffed vegetables are an old favourite at our dinner table, an autumn vegetable indulgence using not only peppers, but tomatoes, eggplants and golden nugget pumpkins. Stuffed red peppers had been on my mind since reading Ottolenghi’s mother’s recipe in “Jerusalem” so her recipe seemed a logical starting point, a deviation from my usual recipe. The flavours of lamb and rice with heady aromatic spice are a delicious complement to sweet vegetables so I began by making a batch of baharat, a Lebanese spice mix.
I’ve made stuffed peppers a couple of times in the last fortnight. The first batch a pretty much followed the Ottolenghi’s recipe except for the onion. I found the meat filling too firm and dry, maybe my lamb mince was too lean, so when I made the second batch I made adjustments to lighten and loosen the texture and increase the intensity of the flavour. Here’s my recipe very loosely based on the recipe published in “Jerusalem.”
8 large Romano peppers
600g tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 large cloves garlic finely chopped
A generous sprig of fresh lemon thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup stock
100g basmati rice
500g minced lamb
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons baharat
1 tomato skinned, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons dried mint
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons sea salt
Generous grinding black pepper
Peel and chop the tomatoes for the sauce. Set one tomato aside for the stuffing.
Heat the olive oil and tomatoes in a heavy lidded pan that will fit the peppers in one layer, add the, garlic, lemon thyme and stock then season generously with sea salt and pepper.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Boil the rice in salted water for 5 mins.
Drain the rice, refresh under cold water and set aside to cool.
Roast the baharat in a dry pan until the spices are toasty brown and fragrant.
In a large bowl weigh and measure all the other ingredients, add the rice and baharat, then using clean hands knead the meat, herbs, spices, tomato, rice and seasonings until the mixture is very well mixed.
Wash the peppers, then assess how each naturally sits and cut a slit from the stem end down, along the top edge.
Using your fingers, carefully remove the core, seeds and soft membranes. Shake any loose seeds out of the inside.
Divide the stuffing into 8 portions then gently fill the pepper cavities.
Arrange the peppers in a single layer in the sauce, then spoon a tablespoon of sauce into each pepper.
Return the sauce to the boil, cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes, basting the peppers with sauce frequently.
Remove the peppers to a serving plate and keep warm.
Turn the heat to high under the sauce and reduce until thickened. Spoon the sauce over the peppers and serve with a simple rocket salad.