I love stuffed peppers and tomatoes on continental holidays, but I’m going to miss them this year because of our staycation. How can I replicate the taste?
Stuffed veg have a lot going for them: they couldn’t be easier to make, they can be served warm or at room temperature, they work with grilled fish, meat, salads or solo, and, perhaps most importantly, they always bring the holiday vibes. Essentially, we should all be getting, er, stuffed right about now.
“I love them,” says chef and restaurateur Sally Clarke, “especially when they’re stuffed with the vegetable itself. Usually, that means removing the centre when it’s still raw or partially cooked, then chopping and flavouring with herbs, garlic, olive oil, sea salt and pepper – sometimes diced shallot as well, sweated in olive oil.” Pack that lot back into the empty shell, then bake. (You could also bulk things out with cooked wild or long-grain rice or lentils, adds Clarke, whose latest cookbook, First Put on Your Apron, is out next month.)
Happily, you can treat all sorts of veg – courgettes, aubergines, onions, peppers – in much the same way . Tomatoes are a particular Clarke favourite – she cuts them in half, removes the innards (“a beautifully ripe tomato will scoop like a peach”) and chops with garlic, parsley, sea salt and chilli: “You could also add fresh breadcrumbs to hold it all together.” Pop the mix into the tomato shells, drizzle with oil and bake “fast and hot, until they almost explode”. Serve at room temperature for “a life-changing experience”.
Courgettes are another route to stuffing fulfilment. Rachel Roddy halves and salts hers, then leaves them to soften. She scoops out the watery pulp and fills with a minced beef (or lamb), rice, diced tomato, parsley and allspice combo. “Cover the base of a pan with olive oil, add a layer of sliced tomato, then pop the courgettes on top.” Add 250ml warm water mixed with a tablespoon of tomato puree, cover and simmer for an hour, adding crushed garlic, chopped mint and lemon juice in the last moments.
Then there are courgette flowers, says Nieves Barragán Mohacho, chef-director of Sabor in London. “Fry prawns and girolles, chop finely, then put in a piping bag and stuff the flowers.” Close them up, fry and eat with spicy tomato sauce.
When it comes to aubergines, meanwhile, Barragán Mohacho follows in her mum’s footsteps: “Roast, cut them in half, then scoop out the flesh.” Use the aubergine flesh to make a ragu filling, along with loads of herbs, chopped fennel, carrots, celery and a splash of wine, spoon back into the aubergine skins, then “grate over manchego, add rosemary and bake – it’s delicious”.
For pure sunshine, however, it’s hard to better Yotam Ottolenghi’s creamed corn-stuffed romano peppers with pickled jalapeños. Make the filling by pulsing sweetcorn, cream, polenta, garlic, egg, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor, then add grated mozzarella and cheddar.
And, for a quick, no-cook fix, Barragán Mohacho simply cracks open a jar of piquillo peppers, fills them with goat’s cheese, drizzles with rosemary honey, and job done.
Finally, nothing will get Dan in the holiday spirit quite like olives stuffed with pickled chilli and anchovy. They’re not technically vegetables, true, but serve with a glass of sherry and, as Barragán Mohacho says, “It’s Spain.”
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