Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells

I must have been conceived in a pepper patch because I’m obsessed with all types of peppers. From mild bells to near thermonuclear Scotch Bonnets and just about everything in between, I am simply addicted to these little devils, especially ones with a hefty dose of capsaicin. That’s the stuff that makes peppers hot.

I also love the fall! Football season is in full swing, the leaves are painting the mountains with vibrant colors and I’m in the process of fermenting a blend of red grapes that will produce about 70 gallons of homemade wine. With sunny days, cool temperatures and the harvest season upon us, it’s also time to transition from the lighter wine and food choices of summer to more flavorful fare.

Autumn in these parts also means you still have access to the last vestiges of the harvest, including one of my favorite foods-the red bell pepper. While red bells are not at all spicy or hot, they become sweet, smoky and richly flavored when you roast them to the point where the pepper skin is scorched and blackened.

Every autumn for the last several decades, I’ve waited anxiously for locally grown green bell peppers to turn large and red. Then I roast, peel and slice them into strips, cover them with good olive oil, minced garlic and balsamic vinegar and devour them with crusty bread and a glass or two of my homemade wine.

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Just last week, I decided to take four of those roasted red bells and stuff them with a mouth-watering concoction of farro, (the low carb barley look-alike grain) bacon and mozzarella cheese along with diced and sauteed onions, yellow bells and one hot banana pepper. You will need a red wine that is both rich and able to compliment these spicy roasted peppers so you might try the ones below.

2017 Handley Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($22) – From Mendocino County in northern California, this is a ripe, medium-bodied wine that has spicy red and black cherry flavors. Mendocino is one of my favorite pinot noir appellations and the Handley pairs seamlessly with the richness of the stuffed peppers.

2017 Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem ($33) – Occultum Lapidem translated from Latin means “hidden gem” which more than aptly describes this red. From the southern French region of Languedoc- Roussillon, this is a blend of 60% grenache, and 40% syrah. It is full-bodied, but well balanced with plum-like, dark fruit flavors and a peppery finish. An appropriate companion to the “Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells.”

Not Your Mama’s Stuffed Bells

Ingredients:

-Four large red bell peppers
-Two cups of chicken stock
-One-half sweet onion
-Two slices of thick cut bacon
-One cup of farro
-Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
-Two cloves of garlic.
-One cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
-Two tablespoons of chopped parsley
-Four leaves of fresh basil
-One-half yellow bell pepper
-One hot banana pepper (optional)
-One medium sized cooking pot and sauté ‘pan
-One large bowl and one casserole dish
-One large sheet of plastic wrap
-Two paper towel sheets, one sheet of aluminum foil
-One teaspoon each salt and pepper

Preparation

Roast peppers on stove top, oven or grill until peels are scorched
Place roasted peppers in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap for half hour
Use a small paring knife to remove scorched pepper skins
Cut a circle into the top of each pepper and discard stem
Pour farro into colander and rinse thoroughly in cold water
Bring chicken stock to a boil, add farro
Turn heat to low and cook farro until al dente (approximately 20 minutes)
Dice bacon and sauté until slightly brown in one tablespoon of olive oil
Remove bacon with slotted spoon and place on paper towel
Add remaining olive oil to pan and saute’ diced onion, garlic, yellow and banana peppers
Mix cooked farro, sauteed vegetables, parsley, bacon and cheese to large bowl
Stuff each pepper with mixture, place in casserole and cover with foil
Bake in a 350-degree F oven for 50 minutes, uncover and cook for 10 more minutes
Serve and accompany with a green salad in a vinaigrette dressing

John Brown is also a novelist. His latest book is “Augie’s World” which is a sequel to his debut novel, Augie’s War. You can find out more about his novels at wordsbyjohnbrown.com

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