Wine With Stuffed Peppers
by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas
Like other foods native to South America, including potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, bell peppers-so named for their glossy, bell-like shape-are popular the world over. Although they are available in markets year round, in the late summer and fall seasons there is something particularly appealing about the profusion of red, green, orange, yellow, chocolate-hued and purple peppers piled high in an edible kaleidoscope of nutritious deliciousness (peppers are loaded with vitamins A, D and B6, as well as fiber.) No matter their color, all bell peppers belong to the same family (Capsicum annum) and are unrelated to black pepper (Piper nigrum).
We favor red, orange and yellow peppers, in part because their milder, sweeter flavor is more welcoming to wine than the more bitter green variety (as a bonus, they are also higher in nutritional value). Even so, finding the perfect partner for stuffed peppers isn't a slam-dunk, as we discovered recently when we sat down to a dinner with this old-fashioned dish and tested a dozen or so wines. While the earthy flavors and distinctive tang of bell peppers will affect their interaction with wine, it is the ingredients in the stuffing, rather than the peppers themselves, that for the most part determine which wines work best. We knew that chicken, seafood or cheese fillings would demand entirely different choices than a traditional meat and rice stuffing would, but we decided to stick with the traditional preparation.
Although a full-bodied, fruity Chardonnay was pretty good with the dish, reds rather than white wines were generally more flattering to it. Extremely light and delicate wines (the Brouilly in our lineup for example) were overwhelmed by the robustness of the dish, while overt acidity (as in a Sangiovese from Italy) unpleasantly accentuated the pepper's own twinge of acidity. The single pleasing characteristic that all of our favorite wines had in common was sweetness. Whether from ripe fruit or from oak barrels, the munificent sweetness inherent in our top wine selections embraced the natural sweetness in the baked peppers, and at the same time underscored the complexity of the meat and rice mixture.
4 bell peppers, preferably red, orange or yellow
2 tablespoons olive oil (mixed use)
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 cup cooked rice (white or brown)
One 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, or 1 ½ cups fresh
¼ cup minced parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut peppers in half lengthwise, then remove stem, seeds, and fibrous core. Steam or simmer the peppers for about 3-5 minutes, or until they have just begun to soften. When cool enough to handle, arrange them in an oiled baking dish.
Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet and cook onions over medium heat until soft. Add garlic and cook another minute or two. Add the beef and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until beef has lightly colored. Remove skillet from heat and stir in the rice, tomatoes, parsley and other herbs and seasonings. Divide the mixture among the pepper halves. Top with the grated cheese, cover the dish with foil, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove cover, drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over the top of the peppers, and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.
If you have any food and wine pairings that you think are outstanding, or if you've encountered any glaring mismatches, we'd love to hear from you. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.