Around this part of the world (north Florida,) banana peppers are growing in profusion this time of year! My brother Marc has a lot in his garden he shares and his boss brought the Colonel a sack of them this last week. So being a retired chef who used to create recipes all the time for my restaurant, I decided that I needed to do something "cheffy" with banana peppers. Of course, they are delicious in salads or just sauteed in olive oil with onions, but something different is always nice! That being said, here is my recipe for stuffed banana peppers.
Stuffed Banana Peppers
About 10 long sweet banana peppers that have turned red (I like them at least six inches long, and if they are red, they have a sweeter flavor. Green can also be used. For that matter, shorter ones can be used, but they are more labor intensive, since they are skinnier and harder to stuff.)
about 1/2 pound ground sausage, crumbled
1/4 medium onion, finely diced
2 medium banana peppers, cleaned and finely diced
about three baby portabella mushrooms, finely diced
1 MIM made without sweetener or spice- you will probably not use a whole one, but it's too hard to make part of one
Atkins friendly marinara sauce, or sugar free marinara sauce in the jar (read the labels!)
Grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 small clove of garlic finely minced
Wash the banana peppers, and leaving the stems on, cut a slit down the middle lengthwise to within 1/2 inch of the tip (except for the two you diced for the stuffing.) When I do this, I lay the pepper down and see which side is best for it to lay flat in a baking pan. Gently work the slit a little bit open with your fingers and use a small paring knife to get seeds and most of the veins out. Do this carefully without breaking open the pepper. Wash the inside to remove remaining seeds.
Saute, sausage, onions, peppers and mushrooms in a saute pan just till the crumbled sausage is done, but not crispy and the onions are translucent. Place these in a bowl with about three heaping tablespoons of marinara sauce and the herbs. Begin crumbling the MIM, little bits at a time to give the stuffing a medium firm consistency when mixed with the marinara sauce. You will have to "eyeball" this process, since you may have to add a bit of marinara for moisture or a bit more MIM to firm it up. You want the stuffing to have a medium moisture content, not dry and not dripping wet. In a flat baking pan, spread about 3/4 inch of marinara sauce. Take each pepper and gently stuff it till a little stuffing sticks out of the top. I use my fingers to make sure the stuffing goes into the cavity of the pepper well. Cover the stuffing on top of each pepper with grated mozzarella cheese and gently lay the pepper in the marinara sauce. When all are done, bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes to one hour uncovered. Cheese should be melted and the peppers soft when tested with a sharp point of a paring knife. Serve with a little bit of the marinara sauce under each pepper.
NOTE: almost any meat could be used for this, or for that matter, shrimp or there seafood. I sent this recipe to my cousin in the UK, and he said he would do it with ground (minced, as they say it) lamb. Get creative! I even think a few ground nuts tossed in would be nice.