I’m not inclined to make dinner with whatever’s in the fridge, though I pretend to when I know there’s something delicious lurking there, a portobello mushroom, a leek, or a fancy chunk of cheese.
It’s not that I don’t get creative with ingredients, it’s that I favor certain flavors. It’s called being in a rut. Sweet peppers recently called my name and I stepped out of the box. Late in the season, they’re ready for creative stuffing and there are many possibilities. Just yesterday Poppy cleverly disguised her post-election elation with a killer Spanish Romesco sauce made with sweet peppers.
I’ll tell you what I did, but the point is a focus on local/seasonal ingredients and how something that’s familiar, in this case a stuffed and roasted pepper, might be tweaked and made a little exotic.
I roasted and then stuffed three peppers, halved (from Billy’s at the Farmer’s Market). Sea Breeze Farm’s handmade Harissa sausage, which landed in the fridge on a whim, inspired a Mediterranean take on the stuffing. Harissa is a sauce made from chiles, sweet peppers, spices and olive oil, and is a staple particularly in Tunisian and Moroccan cuisine. It has a smoky character reminiscent of chipotle pepper.
With northern Africa in mind I made some couscous, sautéed Sea Breeze’s Harissa sausage with onion and carrot, pinches of turmeric and saffron, kale, a little tomato sauce – the expensive stuff from the backyard, aka the Tomato Sauce Fiasco – and finally stirred in the cooked couscous. Before baking I topped each stuffed pepper with breadcrumbs and grated cheese – Sea Breeze’s Vache de Vashon cheese is perfect. 350º uncovered for about 25 minutes, or until peppers are tender, cheese is browned and mixture is bubbly. I pre-baked salted and olive-oiled peppers for 15 minutes at 375º until they were almost tender, then stuffed them. Not sure that was necessary. Twenty-five or thirty minutes baking time, w/o the fifteen minute pre-bake for the peppers might have been enough and you’d save a step. Finish with a dollop of yogurt before serving or a spoonful of *Harissa sauce.
So that’s it anecdotally. Basically it’s a classic stuffed pepper with a north African twist. I intended to use black beans and rice and Mexican spices, but the Harissa sausage showed up. That’s the message here – start with a base and embellish with what you have. The base would be the roasted peppers filled with what you like, whatever you have on hand: rice, beans, farro, any sausage, orzo pasta, cheese of any kind. Mix it up.
Stuff a hoop, stuff your face, stuff a turkey, zucchini, a mushroom, stuff an envelope, a ballot box . . . Or, stuff a pepper and roast it for supper. Ours were delicious.
About *Harissa sauce. It’s easy to make, can be made spicy hot, and is fantastic stirred into a bowl of soup a tablespoon at a time. Like a condiment. Intense flavor and color. I’ve made it using local red peppers (see a recipe link below) and stirred into a curry vegetable soup, chicken soup, and fish chowder. A knockout.