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Italian Stuffed Peppers

Italian stuffed peppers
Susan Russo for NPR /

Though Italian stuffed peppers can be made with rice, breadcrumbs and/or meats, my grandmother always made hers with crusty Italian bread — a family favorite. She referred to her stuffed peppers as a "peasant dish," since they were a way to use up stale bread. Since she cooked instinctually and never used recipes, this recipe is based on my own cooking and my memory of her peppers.

Makes 6 servings

1/2 pound stale Italian bread, torn into small pieces (4 1/2 to 5 cups)

10 Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup grated Reggiano-Parmigiano cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

1 large egg, lightly beaten

6 small red bell peppers (about 3 to 4 inches tall)

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top of stuffed peppers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut stale bread into a few thick slices and moisten with warm water. Wet the bread just enough to soften it but not soak it. If it's too wet, then just squeeze it dry with your hands. Tear the bread into small pieces (about 1/2-inch), and place in a large bowl.

Add olives, olive oil, cheese, salt, red pepper and parsley. Mix well with your hands or with a wooden spoon. I usually taste it at this point and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Add the lightly beaten egg, and mix until it is well absorbed. If the stuffing seems too dry and crumbly, add a little more olive oil or water; if it's too moist, add a bit more bread.

Wash and dry the peppers. Using a pairing knife, remove the stem, core and seeds. Divide the stuffing equally among the 6 peppers. Place stuffed peppers in a casserole or similar baking dish and drizzle the tops with 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until peppers are softened, wrinkly and a few brown spots appear on the skin. If the stuffing is browning too much, cover the tops of the peppers with a piece of aluminum foil. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

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