Like businesses, music, vacations and books, most meals begin as ideas—but as ideas that come more quickly down the mental conveyor belt than sonatas or summer getaway plans.
A conversation at the office jogs a memory of Grandma’s butter cookies, and the kitchen finds you rolling dough; a blog post inspires dessert and you’re beelining for the pantry; or, unexpectedly on a weekday afternoon, a hunt through the refrigerator, opening drawers and crispers, fills your hands with bright red peppers and cauliflower and recalls a possibility you’d almost forgotten—and then, that quick, momentary thought, incubated right away in discussion and action, becomes a recipe you test twice in one week with your husband, the two of you lost together in discovery, in watching the abstract become something you hold in your hands and eat.
Weddings, books, business ideas—all of them take months or years to build. But dinner tonight? That very idea hitting you this morning, maybe while you read this post, can come to fruition as quickly as this evening, you and your loved ones gathering around the table to partake in something new.
As you combine ingredients in new ways, you invite yourself into instant creation, the kind that not only feeds your body but also expands your experience, the kind that broadens your perspective of food, and therefore life. By putting your hands together, this instant, to build a meal you’ve never made, you illustrate the full cycle of how we imagine and then do.
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 and complete. Tossing tomatoes in warm olive oil and garlic, for example, the scent and sound of it assaulting you with its reality, with its physical significance and presence, strikes the mind differently than filling lines in spreadsheets or writing words in a .doc.
Perhaps this immediacy, this stuffing peppers and baking them for lunch, is one of the kitchen’s greatest gifts to us. A project stalls, a baby won’t come, a promotion is postponed, and yet, the kitchen remains, ready for us, willing us to respond to other anticipations with a work that does deliver, one that always has and will.
Cauliflower Stuffed Peppers
Serves three as a main course
A quick word on ricing cauliflower, which although not new to this site (not when we’ve used it for cauliflower pizza crusts and cauliflower fried rice), could be new to some of you. Here is what you do: simply break the cauliflower florets away from their stalk and blend them in a food processor until they resemble rice or, really, cous cous.
Also, on these Italian-style stuffed peppers: In a perfect world, we’d have stuffed basil, not parsley, into the hollowed pepper shells; however, it is mid-February in the South and, right now, basil’s hard to come by. The parsley is a good second choice—but those of you with thriving basil plants (or sunnier climates) may opt for a more traditional Italian style.
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus more for garnish
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 ounces of fresh grape tomatoes, halved (this made about a cup for me)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 head of cauliflower, riced (ours made about two cups; see headnote)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
Pepper (and salt) to taste
3 bell peppers, hollowed, with stems cut out and seeds discarded
1/2 cup water
6 slices raw-milk mozzarella cheese (or whatever mozzarella you prefer)
Preheat oven to 375F. In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium-low to medium heat. Add chopped garlic. After a few minutes, when garlic begins to turn a little golden and become more fragrant, add tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until tomatoes are soft and you see some of the skins beginning to separate. Add riced cauliflower and stir to combine everything well. Turn off heat. Add parsley and ricotta; stir to incorporate. Salt and pepper to taste.
Fill the insides of your three hollowed peppers with this cauliflower mixture and set, bottoms down, in a baking dish. Fill the dish with 1/2 cup of water and cover with parchment and aluminum foil*. Place dish in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until peppers are soft enough to pierce with a fork.
Remove baking dish from oven and carefully remove the peppers to a cutting board. Turn the oven to low broil. Slice the cooked peppers in half vertically, laying them on their backs back in the baking dish (we did this in two batches because of the dish’s size). Top each half with a slice of mozzarella and place the peppers under the broiler until the cheese melts and browns. Repeat with remaining peppers.
To serve, garnish the peppers with drizzles of olive oil and extra chopped fresh parsley. Enjoy!
*The idea here is to keep the peppers covered while they bake; we happened to have some parchment-lined aluminum foil on hand (long story) so that’s what we used here. However, a layer of parchment and then a layer of aluminum foil would also work; the reason for the parchment barrier is to protect the food from the aluminum.
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.