After eating the house special -- stuffed eggplant -- at a restaurant in Corsica, Vince Amoroso went into the kitchen to wheedle the recipe from the cook. Over the years he has tweaked what originally was a vegetarian dish, making the casings out of bell peppers, migrating the eggplant into the stuffing and adding meat.
- 4 large red, yellow or orange bell peppers, or a mixture
- 1 medium (about 1 pound) eggplant, very firm
- 1 pound Italian sausage , in bulk or removed from casings
- 4 large (about 2 pounds) tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (see NOTES)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 20 large basil leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup seasoned dried bread crumbs, such as Progresso Italian Style Bread Crumbs, plus more for topping
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for the topping
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (see NOTES)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bring a large pot (at least 8 quarts) of water to a boil over high heat.
Meanwhile, use a paring knife to cut around the stem of each pepper until you can pull the stem off, then use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds and pith, taking care not to puncture the outer wall of the pepper; it needs to remain essentially whole. Cut off the eggplant stem and cut the eggplant in half lengthwise.
Transfer the peppers to the boiling water, taking care to fill them with water so they sink, then add the eggplant halves if there is room; if there isn't, boil the eggplant after the peppers are finished. Cook the peppers for 10 to 12 minutes, until they are starting to soften, then remove and drain them. Cook the eggplant a few minutes longer, until a fork easily pierces all the way through them and they are just about falling apart; transfer the halves to a rimmed baking sheet to cool.
Use a spoon to scrape the cooled eggplant flesh out of the skin and onto the baking sheet. Remove as many of the seed pods as you can without sacrificing any eggplant flesh, and discard the skin and seeds. Chop the flesh on the baking sheet, reserving the liquid that the eggplant releases.
Line a plate with several layers of paper towels. Brown the sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly to break up clumps. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to the paper towels. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of liquid from the skillet into a small bowl.
Reduce the heat to medium and add three-quarters of the tomatoes to the skillet; cook until the tomatoes soften and start to break down, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Combine the cooked tomatoes, eggplant, sausage, three-quarters of the basil leaves, the bread crumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs and pine nuts. Stir to combine, then let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to meld the flavors.
Transfer the peppers to a lidded casserole dish large enough to hold the peppers comfortably. Stand the peppers on end and spoon the stuffing into the tops to fill them. Sprinkle each pepper with the remaining uncooked tomatoes and top with basil, bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste. Combine the reserved eggplant liquid with the reserved sausage-cooking liquid and drizzle some over each pepper. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.
NOTES: To peel tomatoes, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Cut an "X" in the bottom of the tomato and remove the stem. Place a couple of tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds -- no longer. Use a slotted spoon to quickly transfer the tomatoes to the ice water. The skin should simply slip off.
To toast pine nuts, place them in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Toast, stirring constantly, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the nuts have browned evenly. Remove them from the pan to stop the cooking.
From Top Tomato 2012 finalist Amoroso, of Lake Anna, Va., and Sarasota, Fla.
Tested by Anne Kornblut and Jim Webster.
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