One thing I miss about my old life, other than the kitchen, is having people around to share meals with and to test my recipes. This was especially important as I was experimenting with a new recipe of my own creation. As luck would have it though, my college friend and fraternity brother, Carolyn, invited me to her 5-year-old son’s birthday party.
Now while 5-year-olds are notoriously picky eaters, their parents, are generally not. This logic, together with Carolyn’s request that I bring bottles of Viñas Chilenas Rosario Estate Reserva Rosé Wine in lieu of a gift for her son, gave me the assurance that I had a viable focus group for my latest creations—stuffed banana peppers.
My colleague at work is a gardener and in the summer we often find the fruits of his harvest in the office kitchen for our taking. This year, there was an abundance of banana peppers, which I left on the table for weeks, not feeling particularly inspired by a vegetable (technically a fruit) that I associate with foot-long subs. However a light bulb went off last week when I realized I could stuff these much the way others do with bell peppers.
Initially I thought I would stuff them with hot Italian sausage in a nod to my gardening friend who also loves spicy food. But as the week went on, I thought of another stuffing combination, fearful that the Italian hot sausage would be too much for sensitive palates. I even managed to think of a variation on my second option, giving me three possible fillings for these peppers.
So off to the party I went with all varietals of my stuffed banana peppers. The group assembled at the party was truly eclectic spanning generations from the five-year-olds to extended family from distant lands. I’ve known Carolyn for nearly 30 years and her husband, David, for the past 10 years. In David, she found a partner who appreciates her quirky, good-humored nature and shares her Jewish heritage. A public defender for the juvenile court system in the city of Baltimore, Carolyn moonlights as a kiddie rock promoter, finding venues and booking acts with eclectic names like Rocknoceros and The Great Zucchini.* And in Carolyn, David has found someone who is able to communicate flawlessly with the Argentinian side of his family (I was very impressed to the extent with which Carolyn spoke Spanish), some who were in attendance at the party from Argentina.
I put out the stuffed peppers on a table with the usual summertime fare of hot dogs and burgers. While the peppers themselves were not an exotic, they did stand out among buffet of food geared towards tots. Everyone who ventured to try my stuffed seemed to enjoy all three offerings, though David’s ‘Tio’ Bernardo had a preference for the peppers stuffed with hot Italian sausage because he found it to be the mildest of the three fillings that I had made—the other two were made with ground beef that I had seasoned myself. I will admit that I barely had time to sample my own creations before heading out to the party. This was not due to my confidence in my abilities. Instead, I had a lazy Sunday morning that resulted in a sprint to assemble and cook my peppers.
So with Tio Bernardo’s declaration that the seasoned ground beef-filled ones were spicier than the ones stuffed with hot Italian sausage, those went first. The other two options were savored among those who had not heeded Tio Bernardo’s warning of the fillings’ heat. Like the Cubans and Ecuadorians, Argentinians are not known for spicy cuisine. However, taste buds don’t always abide by its owner’s heritage. Our culture gives us the foundation for our cuisine, but curiosity and experience allows us to be open to new tastes and possibilities. Which is why I am so glad that I was able to look beyond my initial impression of the banana pepper and think of a way to prepare it that was new to me.
So here’s the recipe for Tio Bernardo’s pick of the three filled peppers that I prepared. Recipes for the other two will follow later in the week.
Banana Peppers Stuffed with Hot Italian Sausage
10-15 banana peppers (depending on size)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 lb of hot Italian sausages
1 Vidalia onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon black ground pepper
15 oz container of ricotta cheese
½ tablespoon each of fresh basil, oregano and rosemary, minced finely\
½ cup of Parmesan cheese
- Adjust oven rack to the center. Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Deseed the banana peppers removing the tops. Cut a slit along the length of each pepper and set aside.
- Remove the sausages from its casings. You can also purchase sausage loose.
- Place a large sauté pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Once it gets hot enough, about five minutes, add the olive oil.
- Heat the olive oil for three minutes and then add the sausage. Stir occasionally and break the clumps of meat, five minutes.
- Add the onions and garlic. Stir occasionally for five minutes. Add salt and pepper.
- Remove from stove and pour mixture into a fine mesh strainer to drain the fat.
- In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with the herbs.
- Place the sausage mixture in a bowl. Add the ricotta mixture until just blended.
- Place the peppers in 15 x 10 x 2 baking dish. Fill each pepper with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the sausage filling (depending on the pepper size).
- Sprinkle each stuffed pepper with Parmesan cheese. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.