Monthly Archives: September 2013

Stuffed Peppers: A Recipe from Peggy Rayzis, a La Cucina di Poppiti Graduate

As one of Susan’s first AP Calculus students, I was also a member of the inaugural Lunch & Lit program in the summer of 2009. Before stepping foot into Susan’s kitchen, I was well-versed in Philadelphia’s vibrant restaurant scene; however, my culinary “talents” barely extended beyond boiling water for pasta and scrambling an egg. With an enormous amount of patience, Susan guided our class through many milestones – our first bolognese sauce, tomato tart, and even a Moroccan tagine. My confidence in the kitchen quickly grew as I learned how to flip a crepe, prepare a cheese plate, and make homemade gnocchi with ease. By the end of the summer, I was fully equipped with the skills I needed to start cooking independently in college.

Throughout my years at Penn, I maintained my commitment to home-cooked meals with the help of my friend Alex, who was also fed up with the lack of fresh and healthy food on campus. I was also fortunate enough to travel with Susan to the south of France, where I added more advanced skills to my repertoire such as braising a rabbit and preparing a whole daurade.

Now, four years after my first lessons at Cucina di Poppiti, I am completely comfortable in the kitchen. Even in New York City, where takeout is the norm, I continue to cook all my meals myself. Here’s a recipe I tried recently that my friends and I thought was out of this world – I hope you enjoy it!

Risotto Stuffed Italian Peppers, adapted from Linda’s Italian Table

Ingredients for Marinara Sauce:

– 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

– 2 tbsp olive oil

– 2 cans (28 oz each) of San Marzano peeled whole tomatoes –

– 1 cup chopped basil

– 1/4 cup oregano (I used dry because I didn’t have fresh, but you could also use fresh)

– 2/3 cups chopped Italian parsley

– 1 tbsp white sugar (cuts down on the acidity of the sauce)

– Salt and pepper to taste

– Dash of red pepper flakes

1. Put the tomatoes in a blender and quickly give them a spin until they are broken up.

2. In a large pot, saute the garlic in olive oil at medium heat until the garlic is fragrant (about 2 mins). Do not burn the garlic!

3. Add the tomatoes, fresh herbs, sugar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins-1 hr.

Ingredients for Stuffing:

– 4 large bell peppers (I use a combination of red, yellow, and orange)

– 2 tbsp olive oil

– 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

– 1 medium yellow onion, diced

– 1 red bell pepper, diced for the stuffing

– 3 links of pork sausage removed from the casing (I used a combo of hot Italian sausage and mild Italian sausage)

– 1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

– 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

– 2 cups Italian breadcrumbs (I make my own, recipe included below)

– 2 1/2 cups cooked plain risotto (I follow the instructions on the box, using chicken broth and adding 1 clove of chopped garlic and 1 cup of parmesan cheese with a sprinkle of black pepper. You want the risotto to be bland so it does not overpower the dish.)

– 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

– 1/4 cup tiny capers, drained and rinsed

– 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

– Dash of freshly ground black pepper

– 2 eggs

– Any type of pasta to serve with the peppers (I used farfalle)

Ingredients for Homemade Bread Crumbs:

– 6 hamburger rolls

– 1/2 cup Romano or Parmesan cheese (either works fine)

– 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

– 2 tbsp salt

– 1 tbsp garlic powder

1. Use a food processor or blender to break up the hamburger rolls into very small crumbs. Make sure there are no large chunks!

2. Add the cheese, parsley, salt, and garlic powder. Mix together thoroughly.

3. The breadcrumbs can also be frozen for later use. I like to make chicken cutlets, vegetable side dishes, or eggplant parmesan with these breadcrumbs.

Peppers

Putting It All Together:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice off the tops of the large peppers, do not throw them away. Chop up the meat from the tops of the peppers and reserve for the stuffing. Remove the seeds and the membranes from the peppers. Set aside the peppers.

2. Saute the garlic, onion, chopped up pepper meat, and sausage in olive oil at medium heat until the sausage is browned, about 6-8 mins. Remove from the heat and add the parsley and basil.

3. Put the breadcrumbs and risotto in a large bowl. Add the vegetables and sausage meat, including the juice in the pan. Mix together. Add the cheese, capers, salt, pepper, and eggs. Mix together thoroughly; the consistency should be wet. If it isn’t, add a little bit of olive oil.

4. Stuff the peppers until they are full and arrange them upright in a deep pan or baking dish. Arrange the leftover stuffing around the peppers. Pour the marinara sauce around the peppers and over the leftover stuffing. Top the peppers with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and a spoonful of sauce if you would like.

5. Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour. Check the sauce halfway through to make sure it’s not drying out; if it is, add a little bit of water. The peppers are done when a fork slides easily through the skin.

6. Serve the peppers over a bed of pasta. Pour the excess sauce and stuffing over the pasta and enjoy!

Stuffed peppers

Kitchen Supply List

One of the most exciting things about the start of a new school year, for me, was shopping for school supplies – clean spiral notebooks, colorful folders and florescent highlighters.  Sometimes there were even specialty items on a teacher’s list such as a protractor and compass.

This September, while students are shopping for back to school supplies, you should consider investing in some new kitchen supplies.   Below is a list of gadgets and electronics that I use on a regular basis.  They would make worthwhile additions to your kitchen cabinets and drawers.

  • Ice Cream/Sorbet Maker – I recommend the Cuisinart ice cream maker that comes with an extra freezer bowl.  When I conduct a cooking lesson or host a dinner party, an ice cream, gelato or sorbet is likely to be on the menu, whether as a dessert or a palate cleanser.  This is the most expensive item on the list, running about $70, but it is well worth the variety of frozen treats that it will generate.
  • Microplane Zester/Grater – This is a versatile tool that serves two main purposes in my kitchen.  One is to zest lemons, which involves removing the outermost rind of the fruit for use in baking or seasoning.  One of my favorite recipes calling for lemon zest is for the famous French tea cakes – Madeleines.  The other function of this tool is to grate cheese, such as Locatelli or Parmesan, over pasta or into a meatball mix.
  • Tapered French Rolling Pin – This type of rolling pin has no handles; rather, it is a solid piece of wood that is tapered at the ends.  These pins are narrower and lighter than the more common roller rolling pins.  As a result of their distinct shape, these pins are easy to maneuver to round your pastry and to lay the pastry into a tart pan or pie dish.
  • Ceramic Quiche Dish – This is a shallow dish traditionally used by the French to make quiche; however, I typically use it for tarts, both savory – tomato or mushroom – and sweet – pear or apricot.  I also use this dish to make flan, my favorite Spanish dessert, as it distributes the heat to the custard more evenly than any other baking dish.
  • Nested Glass Bowl Set – My stackable glass bowl set is from Williams Sonoma and contains ten bowls.  The larger ones are perfect for mixing batters and dough while the smaller ones are ideal for separating eggs and collecting ingredients to assemble into the larger bowls.  I also enjoy using my set of brightly colored vintage Pyrex nesting bowls, which my husband Vincent gave me, and my retro “Cinderella” nesting bowls which have a pouring spout on one side and a handle on the other.  The latter are the most useful for beating eggs and then pouring them into your batter of choice.
  • Stainless Steel Strainer – The scoop on this strainer has a five inch diameter (although you could find larger ones) and has a bamboo handle.  It is perfect for scooping foods from boiling water or hot oil.  I use it most frequently to scoop gnocchi from boiling water as they float to the top and then transfer the gnocchi to whatever sauce is waiting for them in the pan on the neighboring burner – usually butter sage sauce or marinara.
  • Salt Keeper – These containers are wood with a swivel top or ceramic with an open side.  Using one of these vessels to store salt permits this favorite mineral to remain in easy reach on the counter at all times.  As I cook, I am constantly reaching into my wood salt keeper for a pinch to add to a recipe.
  • Wood Grilling Planks – These planks are made of maple, cedar or alder and add an interesting twist to grilling fish.  Soak the plank in water and then place your fish, along with lemon, extra virgin olive oil and herbs on top of the wood.  I prefer to enclose the plank and fish in aluminum foil to prevent drying, although you could put the wood directly on the grill.  These planks keep the fish moist and add a unique smoky flavor.
  • Tomato Knife – This knife has a serrated edge enabling you to slice through the tomato without “smushing” the tomato or indenting the skin without actually cutting through it.  The blade also permits you to make very thin slices, an effect that regular knifes will not accomplish.

Happy shopping…and cooking!

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2013.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dinner at Styer’s Garden Café

On Friday night, my husband, two friends and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner at Styer’s Garden Café in Glen Mills, PA.  The setting is peaceful – a greenhouse of tables covered in linen tablecloths – and the food is excellent.  The seasonal menu offered a variety of meat and seafood options, permitting everyone in our group to choose something different.

My favorite appetizer was the grilled watermelon salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes and crumbles of blue cheese.  It was the perfect salad to celebrate the end of summer.  The top two main courses were the whole grilled branzino over fennel and barley and the halibut with summer squash and eggplant.  The branzino skin was crispy, while the meat was cooked to perfection.  The halibut, which many other restaurants tend to overcook and dry out, was moist and tasty.

Before our dessert of coffee ice cream, we shared the generous cheese board of five local cheeses, honey, quince paste and crostinis.  It is difficult for local restaurants to beat Styer’s in terms of the quality and taste of the food, the setting, and, of course, the fact that you can bring your favorite sparkling, red or white to this BYOB.

Grilled watermelon salad

Grilled watermelon salad