Leftovers are the bane of my culinary existence. For many years, I refused to eat anything that had sat in my refrigerator for more than a day. The childhood memories of all those horrible casseroles- made from the sad remains of previous meals- had left deep scars on my appetite and psyche. (Have you ever had a casserole made up of tuna surprise, cream of mushroom soup, and spaghetti? It’s not good my friend, it’s not good.)
Ultimately, after much therapy, (and realizing that it probably wasn’t economically feasible to spend hundreds of dollars a month dining out), I learned to accept leftovers in my life. In fact, one of the ultimate tests of a chef is whether they can transform leftover food into something fresh and exciting. Yesterday’s entrée, today’s special.
There are many ways to create new meals from leftovers, and one of my favourite ways is stuffed peppers. Stuffed peppers are healthy, colourful, and ridiculously easy to make. It’s also a great way to make your humble scraps into a truly elegant-looking dish. I like to stuff my peppers with leftover ragout (find the recipe here), or jambalaya (find the recipe here); and serve them with tasty homemade cheese sauce.
Stuffed Peppers with Mornay Sauce
(Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: 45 minutes. Serves: 3-4.)
Part A: The Peppers
- 3-4 large red, yellow, or green bell peppers
- 3-4 cups leftover ragoût
- 1-2 cups cooked rice
- 1/4 cup shredded cheese (optional)
- 2-3 tsp green onions, thinly sliced (as garnish)
To prepare the peppers, cut off the tops and stems, and remove the seeds and as much of the white membrane as possible. Then trim a small amount off the bottoms the peppers, so that the peppers will be stable when placed upright (be careful not to cut into the pepper cavity). In a large pot, bring 1 1/2 inches of water to a boil. Place the peppers- with the cavity facing up- on a metal steamer insert, then place the insert in the pot. Cover the pot, and let the peppers steam for 5 minutes.
Carefully remove the insert with the peppers after 5 minutes, and allow them to cool for 10-15 minutes. (This isn’t absolutely necessary, but I find it is easier to stuff the peppers if I can handle them.) While you wait for the peppers to cool, preheat the oven to 400° fahrenheit. Place the peppers in a shallow roasting pan, and stuff the cavities with the rice and ragoût. I like to alternate layers of rice and ragoût mixture. Leave a little room at the top of the pepper, and top with a layer of shredded cheese. Place the pan in the oven, and bake the peppers for 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Broil the peppers for the last 2 minutes to get the cheese all nice and browned. The peppers should be soft, but not mushy or falling apart; and the filling should be completely heated through.
While the peppers are baking, use this time to prepare the mornay (cheese) sauce.
Part B: Mornay Sauce
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk, room temperature
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup grated aged cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup grated gruyère cheese
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. When it begins to froth, whisk the flour in to the butter to form a thick paste. Keep whisking the paste as it bubbles, until it starts to become thin and smooth, and the raw flour smell has disappeared. This will take about 5 minutes, by the end the roux will have taken on a pale yellowish-white colour. You have now created a white roux.
Slowly add the milk in a steady stream, whisking continuously. Continue whisking the sauce as it thickens and comes to a boil, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes. You have now made a béchamel sauce. At this point, you can whisk the rest of the ingredients into your sauce. Make sure you add the cheese a little at a time, whisking constantly. Once all the cheese is incorporated, allow the sauce to simmer for 2-3 minutes. If you find your mornay sauce is too thick, add a little more milk to thin it out, and simmer the sauce for another 2 minutes. Refrigerate any leftover mornay sauce immediately, and use within 2-3 days. Use this sauce to make delicious homemade mac & cheese. Or slather it over ham and cheese sandwiches to make croqûes monsieurs (a.k.a. the most delicious heart attack you’ve ever had).
Part C: The Finished Product
To serve your stuffed peppers, place a generous dollop of the sauce in the centre of the plate, and place a pepper atop the pool of mornay sauce. Drizzle more sauce on top of the pepper, and garnish with sliced green onions or chopped parsley.
Have a bite, and marvel at how amazing your stuffed peppers taste! These are leftovers done up right; not consigned to some soul-crushing casserole, and then eventually to the garbage. And the best part is that you can make these ahead of time if necessary. Just bake them for an extra 5 minutes.
So welcome to flavour therapy my friends. It’s delicious, it’s economical, and it will help you forget the memories of horrible meals past. (Unfortunately, it won’t help you forget that time you did a class presentation with your fly down.)