I know it’s perverse, but every time I eat sausage, I think about The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s fiction-based-on-fact expose of the horrors of Midwest meat packing plants. I had to present a report on the book in junior high school, and it still freaks me out from time to time.
And yet, I continue to eat sausage. At least nowadays I try to buy it directly from the guy who raised the animals, or from one of those crunchy granola stores. It makes me feel a little virtuous. I won’t argue the merits of sausage with you. We all know that nutritionally, it doesn’t have a lot. But, like bacon, its blend of salty, earthy and spicy flavors can stand alone or lend themselves to a complex dish.
Sometimes, you can cheat and use “healthier” sausage. The other night, faced with some beautiful orange and yellow peppers, I decided it was time to stuff those babies. I opted for sausage links made with chicken, spinach and roasted garlic. I figured, hey, the green vegetable is already in there – saves me a step. And the combination is a winner.
I like using red, orange or yellow peppers instead of green ones, which have a stronger taste and don’t get as soft during the baking stage.
To the usual ingredients – sausage, rice, onions and garlic and cheese – I added a handful of mixed dried fruit that included golden raisins, cherries, cranberries and blueberries. Bingo. The bites of fruit beautifully offset the savory ingredients. The sausage adds plenty of flavor to the stuffing mix, so be sure to taste it first before you add any salt. I didn’t add extra salt to the mixture.
If you have pepper haters in your family, this mixture also tastes great stuffed in a pita or a wrap. And I managed to make it through the entire meal without thoughts of – well, you know.
Chicken Stuffed Peppers
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (almonds or pecans work too)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 chicken sauages (any flavor combination works well)
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/8 cup dry sherry
3 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup dried fruit, chopped if necessary
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 yellow, orange or red peppers, sliced in half and seeded
Lightly coat a 9X13 casserole with cooking spray.
In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the nuts or seeds and set aside. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the olive oil. Remove the casings from the sausages and crumble the meat into the pan. Saute about 8 minutes, until the chicken starts to brown. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onion and garlic and saute another five minutes. Pour the stuffing into a large bowl. Keep the burner on and pour the sherry and water into the pan. Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the liquid has been reduced by half, mix it into the stuffing, along with the rice and fruit, cheese and seeds. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slice a thin strip from the bottom of each pepper half to keep it level and steady and mound the stuffing in each half. Bake for 30 minutes and serve immediately.