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Peppers stuffed with Wild Rice, Cranberries, Hazelnuts and Hickory-Baked Tofu

Serves 4 to 6

The first time I had this filling it was stuffed into delicata squash halves. Very delicious! The filling is equally wonderful inside a pepper, and slightly less filling. It would make a lovely presentation on your Thanksgiving buffet.

•4 large or 6 medium sweet bell peppers

•4 tablespoons butter

•1½ cups wild rice

•3¾ cups canned or homemade vegetable broth or chicken broth

•Heaping ¼ teaspoon salt

•3 tablespoons olive oil

•1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

•3 cloves garlic, minced

•2 large ribs celery, finely chopped

•1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

•1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

•1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

•1 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts (see note)

•1 package (6 ounces) hickory-baked tofu, cut into ¼-inch dice (see note)

•¾ cup sweetened dried cranberries

•¾ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

•Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Slice the tops off the peppers and remove all ribs and seeds. Cut a very thin slice from the base to help the peppers stand up.

Combine the rice, vegetable broth, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 40 minutes.

In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Swirl to coat the pan, then add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Cover the pan, adjust the heat to medium-low, and cook the vegetables until crisp-tender, about 5 more minutes. Add the sage, thyme, and parsley and saute 1 more minute; remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice with the sauteed vegetables, tofu, hazelnuts, cranberries and Pecorino Romano. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Mound the rice mixture into the peppers, dividing it evenly. Dot the surface of each stuffed pepper with the butter.

Bake the peppers in a preheated 350-degree oven until heated through and lightly browned on the surface, about 20 minutes.

NOTE ON ROASTING HAZELNUTS: Bake raw hazelnut kernels in a 350-degree oven until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. They will smell very fragrant. Remove from oven and let cool, then skin them by rubbing the nuts in a clean kitchen towel, or by placing the nuts in a 1-quart plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and shaking the nuts vigorously until the skins fall away from the nuts. Spread the nuts onto a wide pan, go outside and blow away the skins.

NOTE ON HICKORY-BAKED TOFU: Unlike fresh tofu, which is packaged in liquid, baked tofu has a firmer, dryer texture. Locally, I’ve found this at Market of Choice, and First Alternative Co-op. Teriyaki baked tofu is somewhat easier to find, and is an appropriate substitution. You can also add a spoonful of hickory-flavored barbeque sauce to a baked tofu product.

Source: Recipe adapted from “The Thanksgiving Table,” by Diane Morgan.

Sweet Bell Peppers Stuffed with a Risotto of Barley, Wild Mushrooms and Smokey Bacon

Makes 12 to 14 servings. (10 cups of Risotto)

You can easily cut this recipe in half. Because it makes such an outstanding side dish for a crowd (consider it for your Thanksgiving menu), I’ve left it in the serving size for which I originally created. You see, it was designed to feed a gang of barley researchers from around the world who were convening at Oregon State University this summer for a conference.

The Barley Risotto is rich in earthy-smokey-cheesy-nutty flavors, and was a major hit among the scientists. Stuffing this heavenly mixture into a pepper adds another level of flavor and texture. Plus, it’s a great make-ahead since you can prepare the risotto up to three days ahead, and even stuff the peppers up to 24 hours ahead. Then it’s just a matter of baking them 40 minutes prior to serving.

FOR THE RISOTTO:

•½ pound smoked bacon, thin sliced and cut into ¼-inch pieces

•½ cup butter

•4 cups chopped yellow onion

•2 cups (16 ounces) pearled barley (see note)

•2/3 cup dry white wine (such as pinot gris or pinot blanc)

•8 cups chicken broth

•1 ounce (1 cup) dried porcini mushroom pieces (see note)

•2/3 cup grated Parmesanio Reggiano

•Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

FOR THE STUFFED PEPPERS:

•6 or 7 large sweet bell peppers (green, red, yellow or orange)

•Olive oil (for brushing on the skins of the peppers)

Prepare the Risotto up to 3 days ahead of serving:

In large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute the bacon over medium heat until richly browned. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and reserve for later.

Spoon off all but 4 tablespoons of the bacon grease. Add the butter and the onions to the pan and saute over medium heat until the onions have softened and turned slightly golden.

Stir in the barley, wine, broth, and prepared mushrooms. Stir and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid and is very tender. It should have a creamy character, but not “soupy,” and definitely not overly dry. Just like risotto!

Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan, along with the reserved bacon pieces.

To Prepare the Peppers for Stuffing: Using a very sharp chef’s knife, and beginning at the base of each pepper, cut lengthwise from its base through it’s stem, creating two equal halves, each half containing a portion of the stem, if possible so they all look equally charming. Gently remove the seeds and ribs from the insides of each half.

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Stuff each half with a portion of the Barley Risotto, mounding the filling inside each pepper half. The peppers can be stuffed up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to bake them.

About 1 hour before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Brush the outer surface of the peppers and the top of the rice with a light coating of olive oil and bake them until hot and golden, about 40 minutes.

NOTE ON PEARLED BARLEY: You will find boxes and packages of “pearled” barley in the grocery aisle where the rice and other grains are sold. It is also usually available in the bulk foods section of a well-stocked market.

NOTE ON PORCINI MUSHROOMS: I don’t reconstitute the dried mushrooms, but I do chop them before adding to the pot. I use a food processor and just run the motor in quick bursts so most of the pieces are about ¼- to ½-inch in dimension...some can be smaller. But you want to avoid very large pieces so that the mushroom flavor is evenly distributed.

Orzo Stuffed Sweet Bells

Makes 4 servings

Orzo is used instead of rice for a different twist to an old favorite.

•4 sweet bell peppers

•¾ pound of lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken

•½ yellow onion, chopped

•3 cloves garlic, finely minced

•3 tablespoons fresh basil (or 1 tablespoon dried)

•1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)

•1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

•¾ teaspoon salt

•¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

•Freshly ground pepper to taste

•1 cup cooked orzo

•1½ cups canned tomato sauce

•1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

•½ cup grated medium or sharp Cheddar (or Monterey jack)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Slice the tops off the peppers and remove all ribs and seeds. Cut a very thin slice from the base to help the peppers stand up. Finely chop the fleshy portions of the tops and bottoms that you sliced away from the whole peppers (this will be sauteed along with the other vegetables).

If you want the pepper shells to turn out very soft, then blanch them in boiling water to cover for 1 minute. Remove and drain.

Place the peppers cut sides up in a pie plate or shallow casserole that is lightly coated with cooking spray or oil.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, saute the beef, turkey, or chicken until it begins to brown and release its juices. Add the onion, garlic and the chopped sweet pepper. Continue cooking until the onions are soft and the meat is lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the basil, oregano, Worcestershire, salt, cayenne and freshly ground pepper. Stir to blend, then fold in the cooked orzo.

Add ½ cup of the Parmesan and ¼ cup of the Cheddar (reserve the rest for topping).

Spoon the mixture into the pepper shells. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce on top of each pepper, then sprinkle each one with a portion of the remaining Parmesan and Cheddar cheeses. Pour the remaining tomato sauce into the baking dish around the peppers.

Bake until the filling is very hot and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. About mid-way through the baking process, spoon additional tomato sauce that has been cooking around the peppers over the tops.

Roasted Red Pepper Mayonnaise

Makes a scant 1 cup

A delicious condiment for sandwiches and burgers!

•½ cup (3- to 4-ounce jar) roasted red peppers (drained if using commercially prepared)

•½ cup mayonnaise

•1 tablespoon finely minced sweet onion or shallots

In the jar of a blender, combine the roasted red peppers, mayonnaise, and sweet onion. Blend until smooth. Scrape into a container and refrigerate for up to several weeks.

Source: Recipe adapted from “The Great Big Burger Book,” by Jane Murphy and Liz Yeh Singh.

Quick Aioli with Stone Ground Mustard, and Roasted Red Peppers

Makes a scant 1¼ cups

If you have a jar of this delicious sauce lurking in your refrigerator, you can use it throughout the year in so many ways: to flavor a vinaigrette; as a quick dressing for a corn and tomato salad; to fold into a pile of shredded green or red cabbage with flecks of chopped sweet onion.; to dollop onto the golden surface of freshly grilled chicken breasts, pork chops, or fish; as a topping for sliced tomatoes or roasted vegetables; as a dip for raw vegetables, cooked artichokes, and freshly battered and fried fish & chips; as a fry sauce.; to season pasta salad, soups, and tomato-based sauces ; to stand in for plain old mayonnaise on your sandwich and burger creations; and finally, as a delectable garnish atop grilled salmon .

•1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

•3 medium-sized cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

•1 cup good quality mayonnaise (I use Best Foods)

•1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

•1 tablespoon stone ground mustard, more to taste (I use Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard; see note)

•½ of a roasted and peeled red pepper (commercially prepared roasted peppers are okay)

•2 tablespoons canned tomato paste

Place the lemon juice and garlic cloves in a blender jar. Now add the mayonnaise and blend, turning the motor on and off and scraping the sides of the blender jar often, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. With the motor running, add the olive oil a teaspoon at a time, giving the sauce a chance to absorb one addition of the oil before adding the next. You may have to stop the motor and give the sauce a brief stir each time.

Add the mustard, red pepper and tomato paste and blend again just until the peppers are pureed. Adjust the character of the sauce at this point by adding additional mustard if necessary, and a little more fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar to taste. The sauce will keep for weeks in the refrigerator (just like commercially made mayonnaise).

NOTE ON STONE GROUND MUSTARD: The Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard is prepared by Beaverton Foods in Beaverton, Oregon. It’s widely distributed, so you shouldn’t have a problem finding it where most mustards are sold. It has a rich mustardy-whole grain character that I love. If unavailable, use another brand that describes itself as being a classic whole grain mustard (which will mean it isn’t too sweet or seasoned in an unusual way).

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