Friday, October 31, 2008

Passionately Regressive

You know how it is: the chill of an October morning, the familiar stripes of your favorite sweater, the desire to come home from work or school and dig into a bowl of something hot and filling. This is such a bowl.

"Stuffed Peppers" was one of the first dishes I tackled after moving into my first apartment, when I was attending the University of Oklahoma. I had one cookbook then--The Betty Crocker Cookbook--and I spent hours poring over the recipes for something I felt I could manage, not having much experience in the kitchen up to that point. Ground beef? Check. Bell peppers? Fine. Rice? A little tricky, but I could try. And it worked out. It was good and, most importantly, I hadn't risked losing any pricey ingredients.

Fast-forward a few years. I don't find myself craving stuffed peppers per se, but I crave the time of the stuffed peppers--the times in your life when you're experimenting with everything, even life itself. I'm into soup now. It's time for Stuffed Pepper Soup.

I was a little skeptical of this recipe; it's so simple, after all. Could it please my decidedly adult palate? The answer's yes. The finished soup has a tomato-based broth, but it's not richly acidic like a tomato soup. You end up with a sort of brothy chili, or a stuffed pepper casserole gone swimming. Allspice was the surprise, to me--and I highly recommend it, or at least a substitution, if you don't have allspice on hand (see notes, below). The allspice pushes the flavor in the direction of the Mediterranean (think Moussaka), and the fresh basil gives the entire pot a dose of green. Rachel Ray gets kudos for this update on a classic American suburban dinner--orzo, Parmigiano, and all. Of course, she calls it a "stoup," but I'll forgive her that.

Stuffed Pepper Soup
from Just in Time by Rachel Ray

  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large onion, cut into bite-size dice
  • 3 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into bite-size dice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup orzo (uncooked)
  • 12 to 15 fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn
  • grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to pass at the table

Heat a medium soup pot over medium-high heat with the E.V.O.O. When the oil is hot, add the beef and season with salt, pepper, and the allspice. Cook the meat for 5 minutes or until browned, then add the garlic, onions, peppers, and bay leaf. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until tender. Stir in the stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. When the soup is bubbling, add the orzo and cook al dente, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and fold in the basil. Discard the bay leaf. Serve in shallow bowls topped with some grated cheese.

Serves 4, according to her book, but it served us 7 times.

Notes: I had no allspice, so I used 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and about 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. French bread is a great go-with. A little extra heat (crushed red pepper flakes or Tabasco) works well.

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