During seasonal transitions like early spring, I find myself cooking warm comfort food and dreaming about summer food. There’s a great Italian rice salad that I sometimes make for a summer picnic, laced with tuna that’s been poached in oil (or good quality canned tuna in olive oil). It’s loaded with crunchy celery, abundant finely chopped parsley and fruity olive oil, and make piquant by the addition of capers and sometimes, tiny pieces of anchovy.
Meanwhile, back here in springtime, I’ve had a hankering for stuffed peppers. I often rescue some good ones from the markdown bin at our local organic produce store. Many people don’t like stuffed peppers – or green peppers at all. Too grassy. Personally, I find them a great convenience as a vehicle for all kinds of mixtures, and a great way to use up stray ingredients or stretch the ones you have on hand. What brought this combination of peppers, tuna and rice to mind was a craving for a certain Italian antipasto of roasted green peppers and anchovies. There was something about the memory of those salty tidbits that made me think that a tuna-rice combination would make a good filling for the peppers.
So where’s the waste-not-want-not lesson? I had made a delicious tuna confit that we’ve been gradually eating for a while now; it involved slowly cooking locally sourced tuna in olive oil and storing it in a jar in the refrigerator. Now that the tuna is gone, except for bits and pieces, I had a jarful of delicious, fishy and fruity olive oil. I didn’t want to throw it out, but what could I use it for? I decided it was the answer to the dryness sometimes experienced with that Italian summer rice salad. I was right. It imparted both moisture and a terrific depth of flavor.
I combined tuna (a combination of my homemade confit and some from a can), chopped green and yellow bell pepper, finely chopped parsley, a little onion, some leftover rice and the olive oil. After taste testing, I added a heaping tablespoon of capers and freshly ground black pepper. Stuffed into peppers that had been halved, seeded, plunged in boiling water for 5 minutes, drained and cooled, the tuna-rice mixture was sprinkled with feta cheese, and the stuffed peppers were baked for 25 minutes. They were even better eaten cold the next day.
Tuna and Rice Stuffed Peppers
3 green peppers
1½ c cooked white rice
1 small onion, diced
½ green pepper, diced
½ yellow pepper, diced
Approximately 3 tbsp olive oil (new or leftover from tuna confit)
½-¾ c tuna confit (or 1-2 cans good quality tuna in oil)
1 tbsp capers
Optional: 1 tbsp minced anchovies
¼ c parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Optional: feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold 6 pepper halves.
Wash the peppers and slice them vertically through the stem. Remove the seeds and membrane. When the water boils, plunge the peppers into the water and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the peppers are slightly tender but still crisp. Remove the peppers to a colander to cool. place them in the baking dish, cut side up.
If you don’t have pre-cooked rice, cook about 3/4 cup of rice in boiling water turned to low as soon as the rice is added, covered, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly and add some olive oil to it while cooling.
Saute the diced onion and peppers in a small amount of olive oil until tender but still slightly crisp. Combine with the rice. Add tuna, capers, anchovies if using, parsley and freshly ground pepper. Add additional olive oil to bind the ingredients.
Spoon the rice and tuna mixture into the prepared pepper shells in the baking dish. Sprinkle with feta cheese if using and bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.