Looking for a quick weeknight dinner that is both simple and delicious? This "unstuffed" version has all the components of traditional stuffed peppers but is made healthier and in a fraction of the time.
This "deconstructed" version has lots of bold flavors – cooked quinoa, spicy Italian sausage, sweet peppers, onions, garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes – and is topped with melty mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Serve this "lightened-up" casserole with a tossed salad for a fabulous dinner that can be on your table in less than 40 minutes.
Recipe adapted from Oh, Sweet Basil
Stuffed bell peppers were one of my mother's go-to recipes when I was a kid. She would always use big green bell peppers, that she par-boiled and then filled with a mixture of uncooked ground beef, dried minced onion, and white rice (usually instant), and then she topped them with canned tomato sauce just before baking.
They were just OK. I didn't love the soggy green pepper that had turned bitter after they were cooked so long in the oven, and the mushy filling lacked flavor. It was a good thing she served them with her homemade mashed potatoes. Please don't tell her I said that.
Now, even though this recipe has been "lightened-up" doesn't mean it lacks flavor. Traditional ground beef has been replaced with spicy Italian sausage, canned tomato sauce is swapped for bold fire-roasted tomatoes, and the bitter green peppers are replaced with sweeter red and yellow peppers. We are also replacing the traditional white rice with healthy and nutritious quinoa – which adds a ton of healthy fiber, antioxidants, and protein.
To get started, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Italian sausage that has been removed from the casing. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, for about 5 to 7 minutes until it is cooked through. Next, add the peppers, onions, and minced garlic with a little olive oil to the pan. Cook until the veggies are tender, about 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cooked quinoa, drained fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, and Italian season to the skillet. Season with salt and peppers. Stir to combine. Transfer to an 8x8 baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle with cheeses (I used dairy-free) and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes or until it's hot and the cheeses are melted. Serve with freshly chopped basil leaves.
I love this creative, "deconstructed" version that adds a fun, new flair to an old classic. While we are still using the same simple components of the traditional dish – bell peppers, onions, meat, and a grain – we are just altering the appearance of them while preserving and even reinforcing the intensity of their flavors.
And because life is busy, we are doing it in a fraction of the normal cooking time.
Here's a tip for you. I almost always double recipes that reheat well (you will find, most of the recipes that I post do). I highly recommend that you do the same. Stay with me. Even though I love to cook, life is busy. As much as I would prefer to be in the kitchen all the time, it's just not reasonable, with work, homework, laundry, cleaning, errands, you name it. So, if I make a meal on Sunday, I know we are covered for dinner on Monday. It frees me up to do other things. My method is to cook once, eat twice. With this technique, I'm only in the kitchen cooking 2 or 3 times a week. That's smart planning, friends.
This recipe makes 4 servings, doubled it will make 8.
To make this a meal prep meal: Divide the Quinoa Stuffed Pepper Casserole into 4 microwave-safe containers. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Let's get cooking!
1 1/2 cups cooked white or red quinoa (I used white)
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage
1 cup sweet peppers sliced (I used red and yellow bell peppers)
1/2 onion sliced
1 teaspoon of minced garlic (I used prepared minced garlic in a jar)
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 15-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
3/4 to 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded (I used Follow Your Heart Dairy Free Mozzarella Shreds)
1-2 tablespoon parmesan cheese (I used Violife Just Like Parmesan)
Chopped fresh basil leaves, optional for serving
How to make
Please be sure to visit Oh, Sweet Basil for the source recipe and instructions.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray an 8x8" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the Italian sausage that has been removed from the casing. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, for about 5-7 minutes until it is cooked through.
Add the peppers, onions, and minced garlic with a little olive oil to the pan.
Add the Italian seasoning and a pinch or two of red pepper flakes (if using).
Cook until the veggies are tender, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cooked quinoa and drained fire-roasted tomatoes.
Stir to combine.
Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Sprinkle with cheeses.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until hot and the cheeses are melted.
Serve with freshly chopped basil leaves, if desired.
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