A couple of weeks’ ago I watched an episode of Yottam Ottolenghi’s cookery series where he was in Crete. He visited a family restaurant where one of the specialities was stuffed vegetables. All the family got together on a vine clad, sun drenched terrace to stuff courgettes, tomatoes and peppers with a simple mixture of vegetables and rice, which were then cooked for about an hour in a medium oven.
Crete has one of the longest life expectancies in the world, attributed mainly to the typical Mediterranean diet – olive oil, fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.
This is the perfect time of year for stuffed vegetables and I wanted to get in to a Mediterranean mood for a trip to Greece I’m making soon. Courgettes and peppers are cheap and plentiful at the moment and I have a glut of tomatoes to use up – if you grow courgettes you’ll have a glut of those too I expect. My tomato crop has been brilliant this year – all from just two plants grown in pots – even though I’ve had to ripen most of them in my fruit bowl. The flavour is amazing and the smell of the tomato plants took me back to when I was a teenager and had a Saturday job in a tomato nursery.
You can use so many different fillings to stuff vegetables. I was thinking of a Middle Eastern flavour at first – a pilaf with cinnamon, a bit of nutmeg, sultanas or dried apricots, pomegranate seeds perhaps, with toasted almonds and basmati rice. But then decided to go with the more tomatoey flavour and to use brown rice for extra goodness. I’ve been generous with the herbs – I’ve used sage and rosemary here. One thing I learnt from my Sharpham cookery course is to be more adventurous with using different herbs together, and to use them more liberally.
This recipe is based on two stuffed peppers – I found one pepper per person (served with a side salad) filling enough, but double up on the quantities if you’re feeling really hungry. Leave out the feta for a vegan version.
- 2 red or orange/yellow peppers (not green peppers)
- 2 handfuls of brown rice
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 1 courgette, finely chopped
- 4 fresh tomatoes, chopped (skin and seeds included)
- Half a tin of tomatoes
- Tablespoon of tomato purée
- 1 large handful of feta cheese (omit for a vegan recipe)
- About a tablespoon of chopped, fresh sage
- 2 or 3 sprigs of finely chopped rosemary
- Tablespoon of pine nuts
- Olive oil for cooking
- Salt and pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
- Slice the top off the peppers and carefully cut out the pith and seeds (from the inside of the pepper and the lid). Place on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a pan and gently cook the onions until soft, add the rice, garlic, courgettes and fresh tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes (stirring), then add the half tin of tomatoes (and all the juice), tomato purée and herbs. Season well with salt and pepper.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the rice is just cooked.
- Crumble in the feta, add the pine nuts and stir then with a spoon stuff the peppers.
- Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes.
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