This post is the perfect example of my Your Italian Grandma approach to shopping and preparing meals using your pantry. To begin with, I bought three big red bell peppers on Saturday. I had no specific plan for them. They looked good and they were cheap. YIG axiom: Buy good stuff, buy cheap. You understand the most plentiful supply of food is usually what is grown locally. If you live in or near New Jersey for example,Jersey tomatoes will be cheapest when they are at the peak of their ripening season. My wife requested I make stuffed peppers with the bell peppers. I had a small chunk of queso (It's a very bland semi- soft cheese . Mexican cooks use it as an ingredient in tacos, etc,. I had made some quesidillas with it.) Also on hand, I had two soft onion rolls left from a bag I bought in Stop and Shop earlier in the week. I knew I wanted to use all three leftovers and create a vegetarian meal(the wife doesn't eat meat). What follows isn't a recipe. It's a way to make a meal that stands a chance to be delicious, and use up what's in your refrigerator.
So, my first challenge was to create a stuffing using these leftover spongy onion rolls. They tasted a little sweet to me and had that caramelized onion taste going on too. I usually make sandwiches with them. I had a little concern about the overall taste of the stuffing. You want good tasting bread in my opinion , but it is the background color on your palate, so you don't want it too pronounced. I hedged my bet by using another leftover. I had a small amount of Italian bread, fresh breadcrumbs in the fridge. I would use all of them with enough of the onion roll crumbs to stuff three peppers. Sorry, I don't measure. It was about half and half.
Onion rolls, left over bread crumbs and peppers
In my pantry, I do have dried unflavored bread crumbs which I buy from a local Italian bakery and use for certain recipes like eggplant parmigiana which requires a lot of breadcrumbs and then gets put in the oven with cheese and sauce. Otherwise, I like to use fresh breadcrumbs which I make with my food processor. I believe fresh crumbs taste entirely different from dry. So, after cutting the rolls into smaller pieces, I processed them for about 30 seconds or so till I had a uniform crumb and mixed them approximately 50/50 with the Italian bread crumbs I had on hand.
Now, what to put in my stuffing? I started with some grated Peccorino Romano which I thought would balance the sweetness of the breadcrumbs. Tasting them, I still thought they tasted sweet. My first thought was to add olives and anchovies to the stuffing, but I thought that might taste weird with the sweeter crumbs, so I decided not to try and hide the sweetness. Instead, I elected to toss in a handful of golden raisins and some pine nuts. I still thought the stuffing looked wrong. I had no parsley left in the fridge, but I thought something green would be good. I always keep sweet peas in the freezer. The addition of those satisfied my need to balance colors. Now, my stuffing was ready. It tasted right and looked right. Some olive oil (about 6 tablespoons) to bring it together and I was ready to stuff my peppers.
The processed crumbs, raisins and peas
As far as the peppers are concerned, I like to roast them beforehand and then stuff them. So, I put them in the oven at 400 degrees till they were charred (about 20minutes).I then cooled them and peeled off the skins. Roasting them this way softens them, but not enough to have them disintegrate after being stuffed and baked again. So, I stuffed them, topped them with the left over queso cheese and put them in a baking dish. I cooked them for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.
The peppers after about 20 minutes in the oven
Stuffed, topped with the Queso and ready to be baked
Now, these stuffed peppers tasted really good, but I don't recommend you run out and buy onion rolls and try this recipe. Rather, I would like you to consider how being flexible and utilizing your pantry can prevent a YIG mortal sin -throwing out food. Use your leftovers!
My left over stuffed peppers with a salad