Picadillo Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Stuffed peppers have always conjured up sad memories from the nineties for me. You know the stuffed peppers I'm talking about: green bell pepper boats filled with plain white rice, ground beef, and tomato sauce, blanketed with mozzarella cheese. They always proved to be rather unremarkable. Despite knowing from experience that better dishes exist - chiles rellenos for example - I've spent much of my adulthood avoiding cooking any kind of stuffed peppers myself, because of this association. But one day, in need of a way to jazz up leftovers, I stumbled upon a much more interesting approach to stuffed peppers and never looked back. I'd made beef picadillo the night before so it was fresh on my mind when I spotted some gorgeously bright green cubanelle peppers at the grocery store the next morning. I'd never worked with them before, but a quick Google search informed me that they were perfect for stuffing. I grabbed a few peppers, a block of pepper jack cheese, and went home excited to test out my idea.

My first attempt bombed somewhat - nearly every recipe I read simply mentioned splitting open the Cubanelle peppers, stuffing with some sort of ground meat mixture, and baking. Against my better judgment, I went along with it but wasn't crazy about the raw bite of the peppers that still remained by the time the filling was hot and bubbly. So on my next attempt, I broiled the peppers first until they were charred and blistered, peeled them, and ripped out the softened core inside. Then I stuffed and baked. Voilà. The mild Cubanelle peppers had transformed into something smoky and tender, yielding effortlessly to my fork. Combined with the savory-salty-sweet rollercoaster ride that is picadillo, and spicy, oozing pepper jack cheese, it was truly a magical bite. I'd finally overcome my aversion to stuffed peppers, and now they're somewhat of a treat for weeknight meals.

Of course, this entire recipe rests on the premise that you've already made a batch of picadillo to use. While you could do this all on one day, that's a lot of work that I frankly wouldn't spend just to make stuffed peppers. Consider it your bonus meal for day two of leftovers, after you've already enjoyed your traditional plate of picadillo with rice. Stuffing options are limitless - I included some leftover cilantro coconut rice because that's what we had on hand, but this could just as easily work without the rice, or with the addition of black beans. Any other grain, like quinoa or farro, could also be subbed in for the rice here. Look for Cubanelle peppers on the larger side that aren't so twisty as those tend to be a little harder to stuff without tearing.

Picadillo Stuffed Cubanelle Peppers

4 large Cubanelle peppers
Olive oil, as needed
2 cups beef picadillo
1 cup cooked rice
8 oz pepper jack, or other melting cheese
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
Special Equipment: You'll need a large oven-safe heavy skillet or sheet pan.

Preheat your broiler on high and arrange a rack at the highest position. Place the peppers in a skillet or on a sheet pan. Cut a slit down the center of each pepper. Drizzle lightly with oil. Broil for 10 to 15 minutes, flipping halfway, until peppers are charred all over.

The easiest way to peel a roasted pepper is to transfer it a bowl and cover with a lid (or inside a sealed plastic bag) and let steam do its thing for a few minutes. Wait until the peppers have cooled down so they're safe to handle, and you'll find that the skin is much easier to peel off.

If you find that it's tricky to do by hand, you can rub the pepper gently with the blade of a knife to scrape the skin off instead. Don't worry about getting every tiny little piece off, just do the best you can without tearing the pepper.

Once peeled, gently pull out the core, seeds and ribs. Place the peppers back into the skillet or on your sheet pan.

Now you've got nice pretty peppers ready for stuffing. I started with some rice at the bottom...

...Followed by my leftover beef picadillo. I find that it's easier to work with the picadillo if microwaved for 30 seconds to a minute, just enough to loosen it back up. 

Then the peppers are topped with a generous amount of shredded pepper jack cheese.

Pop these babies back into the oven and bake at 350°F until the meat filling is hot and cheese is melted. At the very end, you can broil lightly to get some extra color on the cheese if you'd like. Mine took about fifteen minutes to cook through, this will vary depending on how cold it was to begin with.

Drizzle with olive oil when the peppers come out of the oven, then dab with lots of hot sauce to finish. Enjoy! I love breathing new life into my leftovers and these stuffed peppers did not disappoint.

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