Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

For whom the bell pepper tolls

Bell peppers stuffed with pea risotto can be a perfect summer dish.

Apparently risotto was invented when rice first arrived in Italy from the far east. The cunning Italians, thinking rice was just another grain like oats or barley, reckoned they could cook it in a similar manner, stirring on the hob (or on the fire, as it likely was back in the olden days) with liquid.

Whatever its conception, risotto is a great experience, both to cook and to eat and for maximum effect – in my world at least – I find it’s always better when I cook the risotto and then come back to it some time later in the day.

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That is why, this new recipe was such a revelation for me. Bell peppers stuffed with pea risotto can be prepped ahead of time, say on a Saturday morning when the off spring are watching Shimmer and Shine on the telly and you’re trying to avoid doing housework, and then they can chillax in the fridge until later that evening when you’ve decided you’ll have dinner.

I first experienced this dish in the ever-excellent Village Tavern in Mountcharles, Donegal and from moment one, I knew it was going to be something I’d try at home.

The Village Tavern risotto-stuffed pepper included melted mozzarella, which was great but I’ve added another texture in the form of parmesan breadcrumbs, which moves the dish to yet another level of decadence. You get the soft, oozing rice, the stringy, melting cheese, the moreishness of the parmesan and the freshness of the bell pepper. It’s a summer-y kind of dish.

Apart from the chicken stock, there’s no meat in here, but if you have any left-over chicken, you could fire that into the mix as well. To boot, lardons might move the whole thing into a different dimension but for now, I’m sticking the vaguely vegetarian concept.

INGREDIENTS
• 200g risotto rice
• olive oil, dash
• half a glass of dry white wine
• chicken or vegetable stock, about a pint
• celery, one stalk finely chopped
• onion, finely chopped
• garlic, also finely chopped
• big handful of frozen peas, thawed
• parmesan, another big handful, plus a little extra
• juice of half a lemon
• handful of grated mozzarella
• butter, knob plus a little extra
• three slices of white bread, blitzed or grated into breadcrumbs
• two or three red or yellow bell peppers

THE PLAN

Start off by gently frying the onion and celery and garlic in the olive oil in a sauce pan with a pinch of salt without colouring, until soft. This will probably take about 10 -15 minutes or so.

As that’s happening, bring the stock to a simmer and keep warm.

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When the vegetables are soft, turn up the heat up to a medium setting and add the rice. Mix well and stir fry the rice for a minute or two or until it looks translucent. Now add the white wine and continue stirring. Keep stirring until the alcohol is all burned off (ie you can’t smell it any more) and then add your first ladleful of stock. When you do this add another small pinch of salt and pepper and stir around some more.

You want the rice at a lively simmer. So just keep adding the stock and stirring the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before you add the next one. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes after which time, the rice should be nicely tender but still with a very slight bite. If you happen to run out of stock, fear not, just add some hot water.

When the rice is tender, check the seasoning and remove from the heat. Add the butter, the parmesan, the mozzarella, lemon juice and the thawed peas and stir it all up.

This is the important bit: Put a lid on the pot and leave it to stand for two full minutes. By leaving the risotto sit, it will develop a delicious oozing texture.

Cut each pepper in half, cutting through the green stem (this can be removed later, but leaving it in helps the pepper retain their shape as they cook) and de-seed.

Ladle the risotto into the pepper halves and then mix the breadcrumbs with the extra parmesan. Sprinkle this over the risotto-stuffed peppers to cover and top each with a few small dots of butter.

These will sit happily in the fridge for a couple of hours until needed or if you’re cooking them right away, set them in a casserole dish, cover with foil and bake for half an hour. After that time, remove the foil and give them another ten minutes and they’re done.

A touch of parsley and another squeeze of lemon juice and they’re really done.

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