Stuffed Peppers, Tomatoes, and Summer Squash | Ardei, Rosii, si Dovlecei Umpluti

I've seen stuffed bell peppers quite often here in the United States. That recipe has been always missing something, in my opinion. Back in Romania, we use a more varied selection of vegetables to be stuffed, and also a delicious wine-based sauce to make your taste buds dance with joy. A stuffed bell pepper is quite good, but you might be in the mood for a stuffed summer squash at the moment; or a stuffed tomato; or all of them combined. Why not? With this recipe, everything is possible.



There are a couple more changes in the recipe I present here. First, we Romanians love fattier meats - they are much smoother when cooked. To keep the recipe healthy, I use a lean ground meat (for example, ground turkey breast) which I combine with shredded squash pulp. It has the same effect. Second, we traditionally serve this recipe with sour cream. However, the recipe here features a savory creamy sauce instead, which perfectly complements the stuffed vegetables and can be used instead.


I hope you have a chance to try this authentic Romanian recipe, and I promise it will take you and your guests on a nice culinary adventure in the south-eastern parts of Europe.


Ingredients:
Vegetables to be stuffed (they should all have about the same height)
 - Five small bell peppers
 - Five beef tomatoes
 - Five squash pieces (you'll need to cut them out from two or three larger summer squashes)
Stuffing
 - A pound and a half of lean ground meat
 - Half a cup of rice
 - One small summer squash
 - One large onion
 - One carrot
 - Spices: one tablespoon each of salt, pepper, thyme, and paprika
Sauce
 - One cup of tomato sauce
 - One cup of sour cream
 - Two cups of white wine
 - Ten tablespoons of vegetable oil
 - Half a cup of fresh chopped parsley


Preparation:
 - Cut the tops of the bell peppers, and discard the seeds.
 - Cut the tops of the tomatoes, and carve out their centers.
 - Cut the large summer squashes into pieces (about the same height as the tomatoes and bell peppers). Remove their pulp and set it aside.
 - Now to preparing the stuffing. Finely dice the small summer squash, as well as whatever pulp is left from the larger summer squashes. Mix it with the meat.
 - Finely dice the carrot and the onion. Fry them in three tablespoons of oil for five minutes. Add half a cup of rice, stir, and cook for another couple of minutes. Let cool, then mix with the meat.
 - Add the spices (salt, pepper, thyme, and paprika) to the meat. Mix everything until uniform.
 - Next, stuff the vegetables with the meat mixture. Do leave a bit of space for the rice to expand (maybe enough space for another one tablespoon of mixture to fit in.
 - Now to cooking. We need to use a deep pot where the vegetables can be covered with water, but which can also be used both on top of the oven for boiling, and also inside of the oven for baking. If you don't have a single such pot, two smaller ones will do the job.
 - Coat the pot with the remaining vegetable oil.
 - Gently transfer the stuffed vegetables to the pot. They should be pretty close together, with not much space remaining in between.
 - Pour two cups of wine over the vegetable.
 - Add water to almost cover the stuffed vegetables (leave about half an inch).
 - Start cooking until the water is boiling. Cover with a lid while leaving a bit of space for the steam to escape. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 45 minutes. During this time, about half of the water should evaporate.
 - Finely dice the interiors of the tomatoes, and mix it with the tomato sauce and the sour cream. Add to the liquid in the pot and mix gently.
 - Place the pot in the oven (without the lid), and bake at 375F for 20 minutes.
 - Remove the dish from the oven, and sprinkle the chopped parsley on top. It is now ready to be served.


Presentation:
 - The dish as it comes out of the oven features a nice variety of colorful vegetables accompanied by the fresh green of the parsley. It also offers the guests a variety of options to choose from: do they prefer tomatoes, peppers, squash, or a piece of each and every one?
 - When serving, encourage the guests to cut each stuffed vegetable on their plate in two, open it up, and add sauce from the pot over the stuffing. This makes it extra moist, smooth, and delicious.

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