Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on September 22, 2016
When the sweet peppers ripen in the fall, figuring out how to cook them becomes a moral question. Everywhere I look there are baskets of beautiful, inexpensive bell peppers, Carmens, Cubanelles and Anaheims. Will I stash them in the refrigerator, only to find them turned to mush days later, or will I stand up and do what needs to be done?
At Sylvester Manor Educational Farm they grow the Carmen variety of sweet pepper, according to farmer Julia Trunzo, a beautiful pepper striped with red, green and yellow. All sweet peppers are green before they ripen, including the big round bell peppers you find in the grocery store. As a sweet pepper begins to ripen it gets sweeter, and shows a streak of yellow and red that gets bigger until the entire pepper turns red. At Sylvester Manor the farmers try hard to harvest their sweet peppers when the first streak of red shows, ensuring the perfect ripeness for the best flavor.
One of my bibles is Marcella Hazen’s “Marcella’s Italian Kitchen”, where I can always find ways to use sweet peppers. This recipe is a riff on hers for sweet peppers stuffed with zucchini. I skip the zucchini she calls for in favor of onion because I like the sweet taste that slow-cooked onions give the dish, and I use ricotta cheese. I don’t bother peeling the peppers because I generally use the small tender-skinned peppers that are shaped like bananas, instead of the big bell peppers shaped like mini pumpkins.
Baked Sweet Peppers with Ricotta and Golden Onions
4 to 6 servings as a side dish, 2 as a main dish.
4 to 6 sweet peppers (4 bell peppers or 6 Carmens or Cubanelles)
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic chopped coarsely
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
8 ounces of ricotta
¾ cup and 2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
Two sprigs of fresh thyme
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Remove the top of the peppers close to the stems. Remove the seeds and white membrane inside the peppers. Cut each pepper in half to form a boat or hollow cup to hold the stuffing.
3. Cook the onion until soft and golden in two tablespoons of the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the chopped garlic and continue to cook until you smell the fragrance of garlic.
4. Mix the remaining olive oil, with the parsley, ricotta, ½ cup of breadcrumbs, and thyme, salt, pepper in a one-quart bowl, and add the cooked onion and garlic.
5. Put a thin layer of olive oil in a shallow baking dish, big enough to hold the peppers in one layer with sides touching.
6. Stuff the peppers with the cheese mixture, allowing the mixture to mound up and place them in the baking dish.
7. Sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs and drizzle with more olive oil.
8. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the peppers are tender, and the tops lightly browned.
9. You can serve these warm, or at room temperature. They make a hearty side dish, or a main dish for vegetable-lovers.