Archive for the ‘Mains’ Category

From the farmers market – act three – stuffed sweet peppers

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

After using them in salads, and roasting, and stewing them, I was still left with several colorful peppers from my last trip to the farmers market at Lincoln Square. With only a day until my next expedition I had to utilize the leftovers, and stuffing them sounded like a good idea. This is also the only way my kids will touch them, so stuffed peppers it was. This dish is a regular feature in my mother’s kitchen and though it may be a little old fashioned, I love cooking them. Like vegetable casserole, stuffed peppers are even better the next day, when the juices from the meat and the peppers have time to mingle. The same goes for stuffed grape or cabbage leaves.


I mostly use a mix of beef and pork minced meat, but if you are porkophobe go just for the cow. I’ve made them with chicken breast, but that never really worked for me – too dry, too flat. The meat choice is important. I use lean beef without antibiotics and hormones from Trader Joe’s and fresh rosy pork mince from the corner Polish deli (Poles really know their pork). If you have a butcher nearby where you can have the meat minced to order that’s the best deal. I would go for a pork shoulder and beef roast. The shoulder has just the right amount of marbled fat to make the stuffing tasty and juicy and you don’t need to use a lot of oil.

The tomatoes add an extra acidity to the whole mix and the carrot – sweetness. You can play with the spices – for a more Middle Eastern experience you can add ¼ tsp cinnamon and ½ tsp powdered cumin seeds. You can substitute cilantro (coriander) for the flat Italian parsley or fresh thyme for the dried sage. As for the rice – don’t worry that there is no extra water added to the stuffing – it will cook just fine soaking up the meat and tomato juices.

The stuffing will also work for stuffing tomatoes, zucchini or eggplants. Sometimes I mix my vegetables for a more dramatic effect.

The stuffed peppers I made today were supposed to last until tomorrow. They didn’t. Next time I should plan better and make more than 12!

Stuffed sweet peppers

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • ½ cup jasmine rice (or any white long grain rice)
  • 1 pound minced lean beef
  • 1 pound minced pork
  • 2 big plum tomatoes, cut in half and the flesh grated (or 4-6 Roma tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp dry sage
  • ½ tsp smoked Spanish paprika (or regular sweet paprika)
  • salt, black pepper
  • 1 handful flat Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 big plum tomato, flesh grated (optional)
  • 8 bell peppers or 12 long sweet banana or Mediterranean peppers, the tops cut and deseeded

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a big frying pan and saute the onion, garlic and carrot for 4-5 minutes. Add rice and stir for a minute. Add the minced meat, season with salt and pepper, the sage and smoked paprika, and cook for a few minutes mixing well and breaking up the meat lumps that will form. When the meat starts to brown, add the grated tomatoes and cook until juices reduce by half, another 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat, check the seasoning and add the parsley.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C), with the rack positioned in the middle. Sprinkle the insides of the cleaned peppers with some salt and spoon in the stuffing, carefully forcing it in if using the long variety (I use the spoon handle to push the meat mix to the end). Place them tightly in a broad baking pan, big enough to hold the peppers. They don’t need extra space in between as they’ll shrink a little during the cooking. Pour the water on the bottom, sprinkle with salt and the second tbsp olive oil, cover loosely with heavy duty aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes or until the peppers are soft and slightly browned. Turn off the oven, cover with the foil again and leave in for 15-20 minutes before serving. You can spoon some thick Greek style yogurt on the plate and dig in.

All in the pot – late summer vegetable casserole with sausage

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

As the days grow shorter, the temperatures fall and the maple trees turn red and yellow, I cherish those last few flings with fresh garden vegetables. So I’m a regular at farmers markets – the closest to garden produce you can get in a big city, unless you grow your own. Colorful peppers, eggplants, squash and zucchini, string beans, tomatoes – they all get dragged home to be transformed into salads, used with pasta, stir fries and stews. I just counted three bowls with different types of tomatoes on my kitchen counter – as usual I’ve overdone it. The same with the peppers and the zucchini – I have a mix of yellow, green and red ones staring at me. There is also a disturbing orange cauliflower that scares me every time I open the fridge.

At this time of the year I stay away from root vegetables, which I associate with cold, gray weather, and try to use the seasonal ones in simple dishes. I limit the seasoning to salt and pepper, with fresh thyme, rosemary and a lot of garden mint, parsley and cilantro (coriander). With fresh-from-the-field produce I don’t want to overdo it.


The dish I’ve made is not really a stew, as I didn’t cook it for a long time. Actually the shorter you cook it the better. It resembles Provençal ratatouille, but all is cooked in one pot and I use whatever is in my fridge, including some leftover beer (could be wine or nothing at all). If I had I would throw in some green tomatoes, too. This colorful fuss-free dish can be served as main, or as side to roasted chicken, fish or chops. Needless to say, for a vegetarian version leave the sausage out.

Vegetable casserole with sausage

  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 4-6 small fresh Polish or Italian sausages – cut into 3 inch (7 cm) pieces
  • 3 sweet banana peppers, cut in rounds
  • 2 handfuls of yellow or green string beens – trimmed and cut 2 inches long (4 cm)
  • 3 small zucchini – green and yellow mixed – quartered lengthwise and cut to bite size
  • 1 medium eggplant, quartered lengthwise and cut into bite size pieces (if it has brown seeds, salt it and wait 30 minutes to get rid of bitterness)
  • 1 pound (500 gr) firm Roma tomatoes – quartered lengthwise
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • leaves from 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup beer or wine (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped parsley or cilantro (coriander)

Sweat the onion in 2 tbsp olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add sausage and cook 3 minutes. Add the peppers, beens and eggplant, the rosemary and thyme, season it with salt and pepper and cook on medium low heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook for another 5 minutes stirring carefully not to mash the vegetables too much. Here you can add the last 1 tbsp of olive oil if too dry. The tomatoes come last with the beer or wine if you are using it. Increase heat to medium and cook another 10 minutes until the juices in the pot are reduced by half. Serve sprinkled with parsley and country style bread to soak the juices. It tastes even better the next day.

Crisis luncheon – tomato and eggplant tart

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Being a freelancer has its ups and downs. One of the ups is that you can have a mid-week break from reporting on the effects of the financial crisis on a small European country and cook lunch for a friend who lost her job because of the very same crisis. As she is one of the most cheerful people I know, I decided to make an equally cheerful savory tart, with tomatoes and grilled eggplants topped with goat’s cheese. It was accompanied by one of my favorite salads – Lebanese tabbouleh, to bring the spring back to our recession-ravaged lives.

By now I’ve learned how to navigate my sorry excuse for a kitchen and on that sunny March morning even the temperamental gas oven wasn’t a match for me. Tart crust is easy if you don’t panic, and is ready in a breeze. This tart calls for a pre-baked shell so you can make it ahead of time.

I used small Sicilian eggplants, which are extremely beautiful with their light purple and white stripes. I don’t salt the eggplants and don’t wait for 20 minutes when they don’t have many brown seeds – it’s a waste of time. The bitterness is in the seeds. The tomato sauce I use for pizza and spaghetti with meatballs, which I usually make in batches and freeze afterwards, made the whole operation faster. I wish I could have served it all with a crisp and fruity Portuguese Vinho Verde, but didn’t have time to get any that day.

Tomato tart with eggplants and goat’s cheese

For the tart crust see my cranberry tart recipe. Keep the remaining part of the dough in the freezer for future use. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Pierce the shell with a fork to keep the crust from rising. Place aluminum foil on top of the tart shell, weigh it down with dry beans or tart weights if you have some and bake for 15 minutes on racks positioned in the middle. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until the shell is golden brown. Take out and leave to cool.


  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cups tomato sauce
  • 3 small Sicilian eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and then quartered – you should have eight strips (or 1 medium size Italian eggplant – cut in ¼ inch rounds)
  • 1/8 pound fresh goat’s cheese (or feta)
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped parsley (or dill) for garnish
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat, add the eggplants in batches if they don’t fit in single layer and saute until soft and slightly brown. Transfer to a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up the extra oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss.

Spread the Dijon mustard over the bottom of the tart – it gives a nice sharp bite to the sweet tomato-and-eggplant filling. Spoon in the tomato sauce and spread it evenly. Arrange the eggplant strips in a fan (or if using rounds – starting from the outside lay them in overlapping circles). Crumble the cheese on top, sprinkle with more black pepper and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese starts melting and the eggplants are warmed through. Serve warm with a salad and a nice crisp white wine. It will really make a difference to your mid week or light weekend lunch.

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