Stuffed peppers are one of those foodstuffs that I never really got into. This is for two reasons. First, because I’m not such a fan of bell peppers—in their raw state at least, I find what flavor they have to be watery, one-dimensional, and surprisingly overpowering—and second, because it seems like such a ubiquitous vegetarian novelty, I’ve never felt that there was much I could add that hadn’t been done before.
It only took a crisper full of summer’s bounty to get me rethinking my stance here. I love this part of the year, and in New York it just doesn’t get any better. The spring stuff—the asparagus, the peas, the garlic scapes, the ramps—are perfectly exciting, but not if they’re sitting next to tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, eggplants, watermelon, and stone fruits.
With these stuffed peppers I aimed to take three high summer vegetables—tomatoes, corn, and zucchini—and jam them into the hollow of a bell pepper. And to my surprise, it works! I’d tried a few other stuffed peppers, most of them grain-based, and found them to be too dense and too lacking in delicacy. These Summer Stuffed Peppers are the opposite of that. While hearty for sure, the corn retains its plump juiciness, the zucchini and tomatoes provide a bright, textured supporting cast, and the shell of bell pepper is tender enough to cut through with a butter knife.
The breadcrumbs aerate the filling a bit, and to prevent them from drowning out the flavors, it’s helpful to use coarse homemade ones. The ideal crumbs would be something like croutons that have been busted up a bit with a rolling pin. If you aren’t going to use homemade ones, I recommend going with panko crumbs, which are the Japanese equivalent of breadcrumbs and don’t have the sand-like consistency that store-bought crumbs usually do.
Summer Stuffed Peppers
Makes 6 stuffed peppers
Add the egg to the filling if you prefer that it be a bit more cohesive. It’s just a binder here, and omitting it results in an equally delicious, if somewhat toppling over, stuffed pepper. But whether or not you’re using the egg dictates how much breadcrumbs are needed, so apologies in advance for any breadcrumb confusion below.
1 medium zucchini, grated (about 12 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional
2 medium tomatoes, large diced (about 12 ounces)
2 cloves garlic
2 ears corn
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons minced cilantro, parsley, or basil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten (optional)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse breadcrumbs or panko if using egg; 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons if omitting egg
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
3 bell peppers
1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
1. Put the grated zucchini in a colander or fine mesh sieve fitted over a mixing bowl and sprinkle with a couple big pinches of salt. Stir to distribute and let stand for at least 10 minutes. Then, working in small fistfuls, squeeze as much liquid out of the zucchini as possible.
2. Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or sauté pan over medium low heat. Add the tomatoes, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until just softened. Stir in the zucchini and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl (use the one that you’d set the zucchini over, after you dump out the green liquid from it) and allow to cool slightly. If your tomatoes were super juicy, pour off some of the excess liquid.
3. Cut the kernels off the corn. My favorite method is to break each ear in half, then stand it upright and, using a sturdy chef’s knife, make horizontal cuts and work all the way around the cob. (Breaking the ears in half reduces some of the corn confetti mess.) Add the corn to the mixing bowl along with the tomato paste, lemon zest, fresh herbs, and many grinds of black pepper. Taste for seasoning, then stir in the egg if you’re using it. If using the egg, stir in 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs. If omitting the egg, stir in 1/4 cup breadcrumbs.
4. Halve the bell peppers lengthwise and carefully remove the seeds and gills using your hands or a paring knife. Fill a pot (or the deep skillet used to cook the zucchini, wiped out) with about an inch of water. Bring to a boil, then fit with a steaming insert. Arrange the pepper halves inside, cover the pot, and steam until mostly tender, about 6 or 8 minutes.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs, the cheese if using, a big pinch of salt, and a glug of olive oil.
6. Lightly grease a baking dish into which the peppers will fit snugly (an 8×8 or 9×9 dish works). Divide the filling among the peppers, pressing slightly to pack it in, and arrange the stuffed peppers in the dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the filling, pressing a bit so that it adheres. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes more, until the tops are toasted and the peppers are tender.