This recipe kind of grew and grew, because I started intending to use up 6 peppers...then realized I had 5, and so bought another 6-pack to make sure there were enough for seconds, too. On the one hand, I think I should have had a side dish, because the guests devoured the lot... on the other, they didn't appear terribly hungry after a small appetizer of devilled eggs and dessert of pie, so maybe it was fine.
And no, no rice. Not even cauliflower rice, because I wanted meat & veg peppers.
No-rice stuffed peppers
11 bell peppers - I used 5 green and 6 red/yellow/orange (Some folks don't like the taste of green)
3 Tbsp Olive oil or other fat, divided in 3 parts
1 handful sage leaves, diced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1 to 2 tsp mesquite-smoked salt
1 to 2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced (or to taste)
2 pounds hamburger
1 pound hot pork country sausage
2 cans tomato sauce (24 oz cans)
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup parmesan, grated or green can
This is a time-intensive recipe. If you choose to make it with lots of pots, it can take less time, but I didn't want to leave a complete mess in the kitchen - so I had to batch things.
First, cut off the tops of the bell peppers, and take out the pith on the ribs. Chop the pepper parts off the tops before tossing the seeds & pith. Dice the saved pepper tops, and put in a pan with 1 Tbsp olive oil to saute until soft. (I actually used bacon grease, because I have it on hand.)
Rub the outside of the pepper bottoms with olive oil, and place upside down on a tray. Put in the oven and broil on low 5 minutes or until the tops are starting to blacken. (This way you don't have to blanch the peppers, and you can smush the pointier bottoms down to be stable when filling with meat. Also, nice flavour.) Be careful when pulling the tray out, because there may be juice now sloshing in the tray. Don't get burned! If you're filling right after, helps to take tongs and turn the peppers on their side or flip them over so the steam can escape and they cool off.
Preheat your oven to 375 F
Back to the chopping board - chop up the herbs (or remove from their stems, then chop up), and the onions. Dump the peppers into a mixing bowl, add more oil to the pan, and add the spices first so they can bloom. Then add the herbs, and the onions. Saute until soft.
Dump about 3/4 of the mixture into the mixing bowl, reserving a quarter of the onion mix in the pan. Add in the cayenne and bay leaf, then the tomato sauce & balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine, reduce heat to simmer. Keep an ear on the sauce - when it starts to bubble, make sure to stir it so it doesn't splatter. We're not trying to reduce it, just mingle the flavour.
Add meat to mixing bowl. If your onion mixture is still quite hot, you may want to put on a pair of food safe latex gloves or similar, so you don't get any burns when mixing everything together by hand. Or, you could own a kitchenaid with that nice fancy paddle... or just use a spatula and a whole lot more arm muscle. Whatever makes you happy!
Arrange your now-cooled peppers in a casserole dish or two. Probably two; 11 is a lot of peppers. Fill with meat mixture. Turn off your sauce, and ladle over the top of each pepper. If any extra, just pour it over so it runs down into the base of the casserole dish / roasting pan / whatever you pressed into service. Sprinkle cheese over tops of peppers.
Cover with aluminium foil, bake covered for 45 minutes. Then uncover, and bake for another 20. The first traps all the juices to create a water bath and prevent the peppers from burning while cooking the dish, and the second reduces the juices in pan to sauce, as well as browning the tops and the cheese for tastiness.
Let cool 5 minutes, and serve with sauce... Or let your guests at them straight away, with the warning that it will be quite hot.