Most meals begin as ideas.
A conversation at the office jogs a memory of Grandma’s butter cookies, a blog entry inspires you to make a beeline for the pantry, or a hunt through the refrigerator brings a burst of creativity that helps you to make something delicious with what you already have on hand.
You chop and prep, watching as the abstract becomes something you can hold in your hands and eat.
Some ideas take months or years to become reality. But tonight’s dinner? That idea that hit you this morning can come to fruition as soon as this evening, with you and your loved ones gathering around the table to partake in something new.
As you combine ingredients in new ways, building a meal you’ve never made before, your creativity combined with your skill in the kitchen allows what was once only imagined to become real.
There’s a unique pleasure, I think, in the immediacy of kitchen work. It’s so unlike the lengthy, drawn-out way most plans move forward towards sometimes uncertain completion.
Coating peppers in olive oil and roasting them in the oven, for example, the scent and sound of it assaulting your senses in a way that is very physical and present, strikes the mind differently than filling out lines in spreadsheets or writing down your thoughts might.
Perhaps this immediacy, the physical experience and delicious end result of stuffing vegetables and baking them for dinner, is one of the kitchen’s greatest gifts to us. A project stalls, a promotion is postponed, but the kitchen remains, and our efforts are rewarded with a delicious meal that we can sit down and enjoy together.
Riced cauliflower is super popular these days, and with a handful of fresh peppers in the fridge, I knew I had to make grain-free, gluten-free, vegetarian entree for dinner tonight that would be even lighter than vegetarian bell peppers stuffed with white rice.
This will also make a delicious appetizer alongside an Italian-themed meal.
Maybe you’re already a pro at throwing together a cauliflower pizza crust, or making a sizzling wok full of cauliflower fried “rice.” Just in case you could use a little extra assistance, here’s a quick word on ricing cauliflower:
If you want to save on time and buy a premade frozen version, go for it! To make your own, simply break the cauliflower florets away from their stalks, and pulse them in a food processor until they resemble rice – or, if you ask me, something more closely resembling couscous. That’s it! You can also use your box grater to complete this taskPrint
The perfect tangy and creamy appetizer, riced cauliflower stuffed peppers are bursting with lemon zest, baked under layers of mozzarella. Get the recipe.
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- ½ cup ricotta cheese + 2 additional tablespoons, if desired
- 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided (or 2 ½ tsp dried)
- 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided (or 2 ½ tsp dried)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ medium-sized head white cauliflower, grated (about 1 ½ cups)
- 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- ½ cup halved grape tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- In a bowl, coat both peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil (about ½ tablespoon each).
- Preheat oven, set to broil.
- Arrange peppers on their sides on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Broil for 6 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from oven and set aside on the pan to cool. Keep the broiler on.
- Add ricotta, 1 tablespoon each of parsley and basil, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice to a medium-sized bowl. Fold until fully incorporated. Set aside.
- Add cauliflower to a saute pan and place over high heat. Cook for 1 minute, then add remaining olive oil. Continue to cook, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from heat. Add remaining herbs and stir to combine. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add butter and garlic to the same pan. Sweat for 30 seconds, then add tomatoes. Saute for 1 minute, then add black pepper and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
- Cut bell peppers in half vertically, and remove seeds and membrane. Place back on the baking sheet, cut sides up.
- Fold the cauliflower and the tomatoes into the ricotta mixture until fully incorporated. For a creamier consistency, add up to 2 additional tablespoons ricotta, if desired. Divide the mixture evenly between the pepper halves. Top with shredded mozzarella.
- Return baking sheet to the oven for 3-5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Comfort Food
- Method: Stovetop/Baking
- Cuisine: Vegetarian
Keywords: red pepper, cauliflower, tomato, ricotta, mozzarella,
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep Produce
Grate enough cauliflower until you have approximately 1 1/2 cups. You can use a food processor with the grating disc attached, but a box grater lend itself to faster cleanup.
Cut the tomatoes vertically in half with a sharp knife. A fast trick is to place all the tomatoes between two flat dinner plates, and slice in between.
Zest and juice the lemon. I like to use my microplane for this. Be sure to remove any lemon seeds! Measure out the quantities that you need.
Mince the garlic. This can be done quickly with your garlic press.
Chop the herbs finely. Be sure to use a sharp chef’s knife to get clean slices, rather than mashing your herbs.
Coat the peppers completely with olive oil. As an alternative, other high heat oils like avocado oil may be used, but olive oil does lend a nice flavor.
Step 2 – Roast Peppers
Make sure to preheat your broiler. Oven temperatures can vary greatly, so keep an eye on them so as not to over broil them. You want them to be lightly roasted, not burnt.
Place them on a sheet of foil on top of a baking sheet. Broil for three minutes, and then rotate to make sure the other side is roasted equally.
Pull the pan out of the oven within six minutes max.
Step 3 – Prep Filling
Gently blend the ricotta, 1 tablespoon each of parsley and basil, salt, lemon juice, and zest together.
Using a rubber or silicone spatula is ideal for proper blending, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This ensures that all of the flavor components are blended equally.
If you can’t get fresh basil or parsley, dry herbs will give you a similar flavor profile.
Step 4 – Cook Filling
Add the cauliflower to a saute pan and place it over high heat. You’ll want to cook just the cauliflower in the pan without any oil or other ingredients for at least a minute, to sweat off the excess water. Too much water will make the filling too wet and mushy overall.
Next, add the remaining olive oil and saute. Stir constantly to ensure that the cauliflower does not brown too much or burn. Continue mixing until it’s a nice golden brown.
Remove from the heat immediately, add the remaining herbs into the pan, and give it a stir. The residual heat from the pan will continue to heat the cauliflower and release oils from the herbs. After a few minutes, transfer the cauliflower mixture to a bowl and set it aside.
Add the butter and garlic to the pan, and place it over medium heat. Allow to sweat for about 30 seconds to one minute and no longer, to avoid scorching. This technique will soften the sharpness of the garlic, but you don’t want to cook it for too long, since burnt garlic will add a bitter flavor to the dish.
Next, add the tomatoes. You also want to cook down the water in the tomatoes, so aim for about a minute of cooking time, stirring occasionally. Stir in the black pepper, and remove the pan from the heat.
The tomatoes are on the stove only for a short period of time, but the residual heat will continue to gently cook them for a few minutes. This way, the tomatoes won’t get too mushy
Fold the cauliflower and the tomatoes into the ricotta mixture. A rubber or silicone spatula is recommended for this, if you have one available. Thoroughly incorporate all of the ingredients, making sure the cauliflower and tomatoes are coated with the ricotta blend. For a creamier consistency, fold in two additional tablespoons of ricotta.
Now is the time to adjust the mix if needed, so taste and see if you want to add more lemon zest, salt, or pepper.
Step 4 – Stuff
The peppers should have cooled enough to touch them comfortably at this point. Cut them in half vertically, and remove the seeds. Keep the stems on if you like, for a pretty presentation. You can use a spoon, or just scoop the seeds and membranes out with your fingers.
Place the peppers back on the sheet tray that you have covered with foil. This will help to prevent the cheese from melting down the sides onto the pan and burning, with easy cleanup afterwards.
Using a large spoon, scoop out the cauliflower mix and pack it down in each half. Avoid overfilling.
Peppers can obviously vary in size. If you have leftover filling, it will hold in the freezer for about two weeks, and can be served as a side dish. Bring it to room temperature, and then heat it through gently in a saute pan.
Next, take pinches of shredded mozzarella and cover the stuffing thoroughly. Put the pan back in the oven and broil for 3-5 minutes. The mozzarella should start to bubble and brown slightly.
Remove pan from the oven, and serve immediately.
Rice or Cauliflower for Stuffed Peppers?
Both rice and cauliflower are gluten-free and vegetarian ingredients, and they work beautifully for stuffing. If you opt for the starchier option, you can choose brown rice or wild rice to amp up the nutritional value of the dish.
For more dishes that feature bell peppers, check out these recipes from Foodal:
Which stuffing did you choose? Tell us in the comments below. Don’t forget to rate the recipe, because we love your feedback.
Photos by Katherine and Eddie D’Costa, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on August 14, 2012. Last updated January 25, 2020. With additional writing and editing by Katherine and Eddie D’Costa and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.