A peck of peppers

Margaret Prouse
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The peppers in our garden are growing so well that the plants need to be staked for support. It's as fine a crop of peppers as we've ever grown. That isn't because we are especially good gardeners, although my husband does have a green thumb. It's because we have had so much heat this summer.

I am not yet accustomed to such plenty. When preparing a stirfry, omelet or salad, I have to remind myself that I don't need to limit myself to a few little pieces of fresh pepper. I can use the whole thing.

The garden is even bountiful enough that we can make stuffed peppers this summer. The following recipe is a good addition to an antipasto table or can be served with a salad and a loaf of good bread for dinner. It is good warm or at room temperature.

The technique of blanching is used in this recipe to soften the peppers slightly by cooking briefly and then immediately shock them in cold water to prevent overcooking; blanching is useful in preparing many types of vegetables prior to finishing them — usually just heating them through — right before serving.

Green Peppers Stuffed with Rice and Tuna

Adapted from Gassenheimer, Linda: Dinner in Minutes: Memorable Meals for Busy Cooks, Chapters Publishing Ltd., Shelburne, VT, 1995.

4 medium green bell peppers or a mixture of 4 green, yellow or red bell peppers

125 mL (1/2 cup) uncooked long-grain white rice

175 mL (3/4 cup) defatted chicken stock, divided

1/2 medium onion, sliced

2 medium cloves garlic, crushed through a press

500 mL (2 cups) crushed canned tomatoes

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 170 g (6 oz) cans water-packed solid white tuna

250 mL (1 cup) fresh basil or 250 mL (1 cup) fresh parsley, chopped together with 5 mL (1 tsp)

dried oregano

10 mL (2 tsp) olive oil

1 loaf Italian bread

Preheat oven to 200 C (400 F). Bring a large pot with 3-4 litres (3-4 quarts) of water to a boil. Place whole peppers in boiling water and simmer 4 minutes. Remove and immediately refresh under cold water.

Cook rice in boiling water, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes and drain. Heat 50 mL (1/4 cup) chicken stock in a nonstick skillet and cook onion and garlic in it for 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and cook for 5 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix rice, tuna and basil together. Add oil. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Be careful: there may already be enough salt from the tuna.

Cut peppers in half lengthwise and remove core and seeds. Place peppers in a small roasting pan or baking dish. It should be just large enough to fit them snugly together. Pour remaining 125 mL (1/2 cup) chicken stock into pan. Spoon rice stuffing into peppers. Spoon tomato sauce over peppers. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Peppers should be cooked through but still slightly crunchy.

Warm the bread, slice and serve in a basket.

There are many stuffed pepper dishes, including appetizers made with stuffed jalapenos and Chiles Rellenos.

Chiles Rellenos is a Mexican dish made with Anaheim or poblano peppers, two similar types of mild peppers. Anaheim peppers look somewhat like large green jalapenos. They have a tiny bit of spicy heat, but they barely make it onto the lower end of the hotness scale. That makes them easy to handle (I feel comfortable cutting them without protective gloves) and easy to serve to

people who don't like their foods too spicy.

I have often seen them at the grocery store, though they are not always available. However, this year there are quite a few grown-in-P.E.I. Anaheims.

Often Anaheim peppers are roasted under a broiler or over a gas flame to blister the skins, making it easy to peel them before cheese stuffing is inserted through a slit in the flesh. The cheese-stuffed peppers are coated with egg batter and deep-fried as the final step in making Chilles Rellenos, and they are then served with a sauce.

On the weekend, I learned of an easier dish to make with Anaheim peppers that requires about 10 minutes of hands-on preparation time, and tastes great. This is good news for people who like to enjoy fresh peppers in season, but don't want to spend hours in the kitchen on the last days of summer. I took some liberties, making a few small changes to the process as it was described to me, and hope that the originator doesn't object.

Cut each pepper in half lengthwise; remove and discard ribs and seeds. Preheat the oven to 220 C (425 F). Spoon about 15 mL (1 tbsp) grated Mexican-seasoned cheddar, the type flavoured with flecks of coloured peppers, into each pepper half.

Sprinkle with dry bread crumbs, and top each half with about 15 mL (1 tbsp) grated mozzarella cheese.

Cook in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes, placing under the broiler for the final 5 minutes to brown the topping slightly. Serve as an appetizer, garnished with diced fresh tomato seasoned with fresh basil or red tomato salsa.

Plan on 1 or 2 halves per person, depending on the size of the Anaheims and the appetites.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at margaret@islandgusto.com.

Organizations: Publishing Ltd.

Geographic location: Anaheim, Shelburne, VT, North Wiltshire

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