Italian Sausage Stuffed Peppers

Most of you know that I’m executive chef for a university in central Alabama. Most people don’t realize that when someone garners years of experience and works for a major contract foodservice organization, as opposed to a private restaurant, the days spent working in the actual kitchen are few and far between. About the only time I get to cook and be creative is for catered functions, or occasional dinners at the university president’s home. I spend 10-12 hours each day putting out fires, like most all of you do, and 90% of my work week involves management instead of cooking.

Lately my creative juices have been non-existent, and I haven’t had a blog post in quite some time. For those of you that follow me, I apologize. I’m working hard to rejuvenate my creativity, and outside of a long trip somewhere the cell phone won’t pick up, I’ve been getting inspirations in many of the same places you do, magazines and blog posts. This recipe is my adaptation of a similar one published recently in Southern Living, the only magazine I’ve maintained a constant subscription to since I was old enough to have a checking account. Like all recipes I try, I use the recipe as a starting point and I add or delete from it based on my likes and knowing my tastes. You too should adopt this practice as long as you understand the basics of cooking, what flavors compliment what items, etc. Not only is this recipe beautiful on a plate, it’s quite tasty and would really impress at a dinner party, but it’s also easy enough to prepare on a week night after work. If you aren’t already a fan of Aldi, I highly recommend them if they are in your area. Aldi has jewel peppers, 3-4 per pack, for what a standard grocery store charges for 1 pepper, so you don’t have to settle for green ones to make this dish (green being the cheapest and least tasty). I’m portioned this recipe for 4 servings with each serving being 1 half of a pepper, so it’s easy to do at 1.5 times or 2 times depending on your crowd size. I hope you give it a shot and enjoy!

  • 2 candy jewel bell peppers (orange, yellow, red) or you may use 2 green if you prefer though they are not as sweet and flavorful
  • 1/2# spicy Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup quick cook grits (not instant)
  • 3 cups boxed chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 1 cup+1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tsp dried Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 dozen cherry tomatoes, cut in half (I grow a variety of heirloom cherry tomatoes in a variety of colors and if you can find some of those at a Farmer’s Market they really are great, but store bought red or yellow ones work fine)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (I use the jar but fresh works just fine, not dried or dehydrated though)
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil leaves

Starting at the bottom of the recipe, combine the cherry tomato halves and remaining ingredients in a bowl and set aside to marinate.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place the peppers in your microwave and cook on high for 2-3 minutes depending on your wattage. You want to soften them slightly. Remove from microwave and slice them in half lengthwise, cutting through the stem so that each half has a half stem attached. Remove any seeds and membranes, set aside.

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, brown the Italian sausage until completely cooked (no pink showing). Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and turn the heat up to medium-high. Add the onion and celery to the sausage oil and cook until tender, 3-4 minutes, shaking pan so contents don’t burn. If your sausage was especially lean (not often the case), you can add a dash of olive oil to the vegetables to saute properly. Add sauteed ingredients to the cooked sausage (including any oil left in your pan) and hold.

In a medium saucepan, bring the stock and half & half to a slow boil. Whisk the grits into the liquid and continue to whisk for 30 seconds to ensure they don’t stick to your pot. Turn the heat down to medium-low or low and partially cover with a lid (tilt one side so it can vent). Cook the grits for 5 minutes, stirring often. Be careful around the grits. They will bubble like lava and are about as hot if any pops out on to you. The lid keeps your stove from being a total mess (those of you with smooth top electric ones especially don’t want to clean cooked on grits off your stove). When the grits are thickened and smooth, remove from the heat. Stir in the 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, 2 tsp Italian seasoning and then add the Italian sausage mixture to the grits. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the grit/sausage mixture into the bell pepper halves and arrange on a baking pan or in a baking dish. Top the peppers with the remaining 1/4 cup of shredded cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until peppers are shriveling and tops are golden. Remove from the oven and let stand for 2-3 minutes before serving. After plating each pepper, top each pepper with some of the marinated tomatoes and enjoy!

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White Bean Chili with Swiss Chard

There’s a chill in the air tonight and I wanted a pot of chili. Only problem is, I didn’t have the correct ingredients to make a pot, but I did have an assortment of “other” ingredients on hand so I decided to make a white bean chili. The white beans, known as Cannellini beans, are just white (or rather a creamy beige color) kidney beans, sold in the can by many brands (the ones I bought are Bush’s). Some people make a chili like this with chicken or ground turkey but the chicken I had was frozen and no ground turkey in the house. I did however have some chicken Italian sausage I picked up at Target, so that’s how I’m making it tonight. Here’s the recipe in case you want to give this one a try!

 

  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves removed from stems. Stems chopped like celery and leaves chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion diced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cans Cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp chicken stock base
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 package chicken Italian sausage sliced thin

In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and chard stems and saute until tender, add the chopped chard leaves and cook for 3-4 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated. Add the minced garlic, beans and tomatoes. Add the water and the chicken stock base (or vegetable stock base, both sold in supermarkets on the bouillon cube aisle), then season with the cumin powder. Add the Italian sausage and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. I usually cover the pot but vent the lid so some of the moisture will evaporate and the chili will thicken.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Caramelized Onion & Tomato Tart

With the abundance of delicious tomatoes coming to market these days, I decided to dust off an old recipe from my “Secrets of the Chefs” days when I worked for Bruno’s Supermarkets as an in-store personal chef for customers. This was one of the recipes I created that was featured in weekly store promotions and one of the dishes I prepared on Good Day Alabama. It was my take of the traditional Pissaladiere pastry. It’s really quite simple to make and it can be tweaked to your specifications. Although not in this recipe, I will usually brown and crumble some really good Italian sausage on top of the tart if I’m in the mood for meat, but the recipe is wonderful as written. It really showcases the flavors of fresh summer Alabama tomatoes!

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed enough to work with
  • 3 pounds red/purple onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 jar Kalamata pitted olives, sliced lengthwise
  • 8 ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced (or 2 pints grape tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise if making when fresh garden tomatoes aren’t in season)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Sea Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • Sprigs of fresh Thyme

Start by cooking the onions over low heat in the olive oil in a large skillet, until soft (this takes about 30-40 minutes). Be careful to not brown the onions. Add the tomatoes and garlic to the pan and continue cooking until the water from the tomatoes has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line a large cookie sheet (with sides) with parchment paper.

Working on a lightly floured surface, form the puff pastry sheet into a rectangle the size of your cookie sheet. Work a little of the dough up the sides of the pan to create an edge once it bakes. Dock the dough (pierce the surface all over with a fork if you don’t have a rolling docker).

Put the onion, tomato mixture in the sheet of pastry, smoothing it out to cover the entire surface (but not the sides of course). Sprinkle top with cheese (and cooked meats if so desired). Finish with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and cook for 20 minutes more. Tart will puff up as the pastry cooks and will turn golden brown.

Enjoy the tart either warm out of the oven, or at room temperature if you prefer. You can also cut the tart into multiple bite-size pieces and use as an hors d’oeuvres at a cocktail party.