Faith Middleton's Food Schmooze: From a Southern Oven

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Faith Middleton's Food Schmooze: From a Southern Table
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Faith Middleton's Food Schmooze: From a Southern Table

No one knows Southern cooking quite like Jean Anderson. A long-time food editor and the author of such books as A Love Affair with Southern Cooking and Falling Off the Bone, her encyclopedic knowledge of Southern food makes her the perfect author for this delicious down-home collection. If it's baked and it's from the South, you'll find it in this week's Food Schmooze.

 

Baked Shrimp-Stuffed Red Bell Peppers

As a riff on an old Southern classic, I’ve substituted plump red bell peppers for the green our grandmothers would have used, added rice (sometimes white, sometimes brown), seasoned with fresh dill and parsley, and used bottled mayonnaise-relish sandwich spread to bind. For Southerners, Duke’s is the brand of choice but during my New York years, I used Hellmann’s, Duke’s being unavailable. Duke’s ivory-hued mayo became famous back during World War I when to cheer the troops stationed at Fort Sevier, Eugenia Duke of Greenville, SC, served sandwiches spread with her own thick and creamy mayonnaise. It was such a hit that in no time Mrs. Duke was bottling it to sell at local groceries. 

Makes 6 Servings

6 large red bell peppers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
6 large scallions, trimmed and moderately finely chopped (include some green tops)
1 medium celery rib, trimmed and finely diced
1/2 cup firmly packed mayonnaise-relish sandwich spread
1/2 cup firmly packed mayonnaise (see headnote)
1 pound shelled and deveined cooked medium-large shrimp, moderately coarsely chopped
2 cups cooked long-grain white or brown rice
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh dill or 1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup moderately fine soft white bread crumbs tossed with 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley and 1 tablespoon olive oil (Topping)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Slice about 1/2 inch off top of each bell pepper and set tops aside. Scoop seeds and veins from each pepper and discard. Stand peppers upside down on paper toweling. Remove and discard pepper stems, then coarsely chop pepper tops and reserve.

3. Heat oil in large heavy skillet over moderately high heat 11/2 to 2 minutes until ripples appear on pan bottom. Add scallions, chopped bell pepper tops, and celery, and cook, stirring now and then, 5 to 6 minutes until limp.

4. Remove from heat and blend in sandwich spread and mayonnaise, then add all but final ingredient (Topping) and toss lightly to mix. Stuff peppers one by one, dividing shrimp mixture evenly. Sprinkle Topping over each stuffed pepper, again dividing total amount evenly.

5. Stand stuffed peppers shoulder to shoulder in shallow baking pan just big enough to hold them—peppers should touch and support one another. Then pour water into pan around peppers to depth of 3/4 inch.

6. Slide stuffed peppers onto middle oven shelf and bake uncovered about 40 minutes until crisp-tender and lightly browned.

7. To serve, lift peppers to heated large round platter or to individual plates using two large spoons. I can think of no better accompaniment than a cool, crisp green salad.