|Pepper on the left, mushroom on the right.|
I came to the conclusion that it was simply a matter of not stuffing things with the correct stuffing for my family's taste. You see, I like "juicy" stuffings such as a bolognese style mince concoction for marrow, which as the marrow cooks inevitably becomes all watered down. Now I'm fine with that, but the rest of the family aren't. It's taken me a while to get to grips with that, as I thought the objection was in the flavour of the stuffing, not the texture. I know, sometimes I can be really dense.
Now I wanted to stuff peppers and tomatoes, but hubby correctly pointed out that tomatoes stood a very good chance of going the same way as the marrow (i.e. watery) and anyway, son & heir isn't keen on cooked tomato. He suggested Portobello mushrooms instead and as I'm ALWAYS in the market for a mushroom, that made a lot of sense to me.
So what would go well with long red peppers and mushrooms? Well, bacon immediately sprang to mind, with shallot to help the savouriness and sweetness along. I didn't want to use breadcrumbs, as I was very wary of the sogginess that can sometimes accompany a breadcrumb stuffing. Thinking of things that hubby likes, brought to mind orzo. It is very rice-like (although is actually a tiny pasta) and rice is another good stuffing ingredient. I hadn't seen orzo used in too many stuffing mixes (and there may have been a reason for that) but it seemed like a good idea.
Now what could I use to provide some cohesiveness in this stuffing? I didn't want to use egg but I did want something that would stick everything together a bit. Thinking along the lines of what does son & heir like, produced mozzarella cheese. If I dice a ball of mozzarella, it would melt and do that "sticking it all together" thing in an unobtrusively cheesy fashion. Perfect. Add a few herbs and seasoning and we're in business.
Ah, but what about the tops? You need something to make a crunchy top, without cooking the heck out of the orzo and making it inedible. Hmmn. A slice of mozzarella would do that, but it doesn't carry much flavour. What about if I grate some cheddar on top, then top that with the mozzarella slice? Yes! That'd do it.
In this way, the recipe was born.
I decided to leave the peppers without the mozzarella slice, just to see whether the cheddar would have been sufficient. However, in the tasting, I think the addition of the mozzarella was a very good thing as it melted over the lot and provided a great "cap" that kept the moisture in the stuffing while the stuffed vegetable cooked. The peppers weren't dry, but the cheese would have kept them from being that little bit less "cooked" if you get my drift.
The orzo was great as stuffing ammunition and I'll definitely use that again. The mushrooms were by far the best end result as the mushroom itself provided enough body to support the stuffing. The peppers were a bit thin - could have done with being a bit meatier - and cooked up to being a little bit papery. Still, the flavour was great!
I served the stuffed mushrooms and peppers with a simple sweet potato mash (into which I added a little nutmeg and lots of butter) and some peas. Apart from the paperiness of the peppers (I'd use round peppers instead of long ones next time), everyone really liked this dinner. Just goes to show that life isn't too short to stuff a mushroom - you just have to get the stuffing right!
BACON & ORZO STUFFED MUSHROOMS AND PEPPERS (serves 3)
6 rashers of smoked back bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
half a tsp dried basil
freshly ground black pepper
2 balls mozzarella cheese, 1 finely diced, 1 sliced thickly
2 red peppers
3 Portobello mushrooms
a handful of mature cheddar, grated.
1. Place the bacon into a dry frying pan that has been heated to a moderate heat and fry the bacon until the moisture has totally evaporated and the fat has begun to render out. Once the bacon begins to caramelise and turn golden, remove to a bowl using a slotted spoon, to retain as much of the bacon fat as possible in the pan.
2. Add the shallots to the pan and reduce the heat slightly. Cook, stirring regularly, until softened and beginning to take on colour. Add them to the bacon in the bowl and allow to cool while you cook the orzo, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Once cooked, spread evenly out on a plate, to cool.
3. Once everything has cooled but is not cold, add the parsley, basil and a good pinch of freshly ground black pepper to the bacon/shallot mixture and stir to combine.
4. Add the orzo, taking care not to "drown" the bacon mixture with orzo. You need to have a 50:50 sort of mix, which may result in your having some orzo left over, which you can make into a little pasta salad for your lunch.
5. Add the one ball of mozzarella that has been finely cubed to the bowl and make sure to give the stuffing a good stir so that all the flavours have as good a chance to combine as possible.
6. Slice the pepper in half so that it will lay flat on a baking tray. Remove the seeds and pith from the inside of the pepper, but keep the stalk base intact or your stuffing will all fall out.
7. Remove the stalk from the mushroom by carefully cutting it free. You don't want a huge hole in the middle of your mushroom! Turn the mushroom over and cut a cross into the crown, which should go right through. This will allow any excess liquid to escape. Place it, frill side up, onto the baking tray.
8. Now divide the stuffing mix between all the mushrooms and pepper halves, pressing it firmly into each.
9. Place a sprinkle of cheddar cheese onto each - a little more on the peppers than on the mushrooms.
10. Place a round of mozzarella cheese on top of the cheddar on the mushrooms - you can add mozzarella to the peppers too, if you like.
11. Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas 4 for 40 minutes.
Serve with sweet potato mash and peas.