Fall is for Flavors

Once in a while, I call in the big guns before cooking. .Today was one of those days, so earlier today to get some inspiration for a few dishes that spoke of Autumn  inside and out, I decided to my "Zia Clara"  in Italy for some ideas.  All was well in Europe, friends, family , culinary muses  and Mr. Berlusconi too - too bad he had forgotten his crystal ball that morning. We talked about legumes, we talked about dishes made with stuffed veggies and we talked about the "solite cose", the "usual things".  Our chat handed me the inspiration that I was looking for.

Autumn dishes are ones that need to be matched their surroundings,. Here in southwestern CT, the foliage, surprisingly stubborn this year,  has offered itself up like a painted canvas, speaking to us in brilliant colors. So today , bold colors and bold flavors were what I read, when I drove around the more secluded streets of my town.

The island's menu contained among others two dishes: a red lentil dish with bold Cajun flavors, and savory stuffed peppers. Both creations were a labor of love  Both required multiple steps in preparation and in cooking. Both were worth it.  Rather than write up meticulous recipes,  I'll drop in a few photos in place of narrative and see how that works out for you . Feel free to ask for details by comments or via email

Cajun Italian Red Lentil "Minestra" with kale and roasted Andouille sausage

Cajun Italian Red Lentil Soup with Andouille


I will give you an accelerated recipe for this one. Be creative and try your hand at this one. as you know most of the steps.

Step 1:
  Roast some andouille sausage,  then allow to cool  and rest.
  Cook - from scratch- some red Italian lentils ,

Step 2: 
 Combine and Simmer along with Kale strips. Season

Step 3: 
Serve with crusty bread, grilled for extra flavor.

Don't miss the broccoli di rape. Add some to your menu for an extra blast of color and bold flavor.

Stuffed Peppers with Sicilian Tuna and Arborio Rice

Stuffed Pepper With Arborio Rice and Sicilian Tuna Sauce

Arborio rice is the other famous rice out of Italy. This is the short grained rice that we Italians use when not making Risotto dishes for which we prescribe Camoroli rice.. I h've boiled it half way as I would do with pasta, drained it to remove the starch water and then mixed it with the Sicilian Tuna Sauce.

Here's the story from the beginning. 

Sauce Ingredients

Italian Crushed Tomatoes
1 cup of grape tomatoes, ripe , and shriveled
3/4 cup of diced green bell pepper

2 Medium sized shallots
2 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 cup of cracked Italian Olives
2-4 Hot Italian Chili Peppers
2-3 tablesoons of Capers
Fresh Oregano

Sauce Ingredients

Try your best at getting the ingredients . I go to my friends at Cosmo and Alex in Mamaroneck, NY to find most of them and especially for the Coluccio brand ingredients are . I have seen most of them however in other fine stores including favorites  Whole Foods, Fairway and other local Italian Gourmet chains. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx of course has them all , although you will have to visit several shops so that you do not settle for the wrong brands or styles.  

Ingredients: Sicilian Tuna Chunks
Ont thing to observe. The key ingredient for this dish is the tuna,. correction the Sicilian tuna. So just do not try to make the recipe with regular tuna in a can, even an imported one.  It just won't work . Only tuna imported from Italy, and packed in Sicily will work. Lot's of imitators out there so don't be tricked.

Just look at the lively pink color of these firm little fish "logs". Caveat Emptor: This stuff ain't cheap!

To make the sauce, cook all of the ingredients together for some 15-20 minutes in a high sauce pan. Then mix in drained rice. Let sit. Your stuffing is done.

Preparation: Blanching Bells in Rice Water
A trick I used was to blanch the peppers , before they were cut, was to blanch them in the same pot where the Rice was cooking. Did not want to loose any of the flavors. Soften the peppers just a bit so that they bake faster.

Preparation :Pepper Shells
After cooling, the slightly blanched peppers were cleaned and "decapitated", and ready to be filled with rice filling.

Preparation : Pre-Baking

Fill the peppers with your stuffing, Top them with some flavored bread crumbs (bread crumbs, S/P, grated Romano cheese and hint of herbs) and and a shot of EVOO . Cover the tray with foil and bake at around 375 F. Remove the foil after 20-30 minutes. Continue baking until the peppers are cooked through.  Allow the peppers to rest for at least 10 minutes so that they firm up. These babies develop their full taste the after when reheated.

The extra rice can make a meal of its own. Indeed, the sauce itself is a sauce that can be used with pasta such as penne and bucatini. Tune up the heat by adding more chilies for a great variation on the puttanesca sauce.

So, it would e interesting to see how your stuffed peppers come out. You can certainly be creative on the filling front. In the future , you'll see lots of variations from me something for everyone, vegetarians, seafood lovers and protein junkie meat eaters. Just ask my friends Murat, Yuko, Claire and "Joey" about the legendary stuffed peppers filled with a Chilean sea bass stuffing, served one afternoon on the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I am sure there could be money in the stuffed peppers business down there and maybe up here too. 

Grazie Zia Clara and Salute !


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