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A healthier take on the Italian classic- Stuffed Peppers. This recipe uses a savory blend of chicken sausage, brown rice, baby spinach, melty cheese, flavorful Italian seasonings and fresh herbs. Stuffed peppers are a perfectly balanced main course or hearty side dish. They are also very easy to make in advance, to get weeknight dinners on the table faster!
I’ve had these Stuffed Peppers on my mind for quite some time! They are so incredibly beautiful and ridiculously easy to make. And best of all since they contain protein, vegetables and starch, Stuffed Peppers are complete meal on their own! What could be better!?
Don’t get me wrong, I still love the traditional Italian Stuffed Peppers, where mounds of juicy ground beef, aromatics, spices, white rice, cheese and possibly a few vegetables are made into the filling for the sliced Bell Pepper.
But, I wanted to replace a few of those ingredients for some lower fat and higher fiber alternatives. I swapped out the ground beef for a flavorful sweet Italian chicken sausage, used brown rice instead of white, and threw in lots of fresh baby spinach leaves. The RESULT WAS AMAZING- NO JOKE!! And I can tell you that I may never go back to the traditional recipe!
What Ingredients Do I Need For Healthy Italian Stuffed Peppers
Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage: I purchased my chicken sausage from Whole Foods. I asked the butcher to remove the casings, and he kindly obliged. If you like a bit of heat you could use a spicy sausage instead. Plain Ground turkey or Chicken would also work in this recipe. But the sausage just has so much flavor, so if I were you- I’d stick to that!
Large Bell Peppers: The bigger they are, the better to stuff you with, my dear! Use whatever color you like.. red, orange, yellow , green. I’m impartial to the red kind. But you do you, Boo! Start by washing the outside of peppers, then dry. Halve your peppers from top to bottom, cutting right down through the stems and remove the seeds and membranes.
Brown Rice: You are going to need 1.5 cups of cooked brown rice. If you don’t already have this on hand, just start cooking it as the 1st step in the recipe. It should be ready to go by the time you need it. Especially if you use the Instant Pot, like I did! Cooked farro, multigrain rice, or barley would also be a good choice. Just try to stick to something with a fiber content, or multigrain. If you are looking to keep it ultra healthy, you could even skip the rice altogether and use cauliflower rice!
Baby Spinach: I used fresh baby spinach, but if you only have frozen, make sure you defrost it first and squeeze out the excess water with a cheese cloth or kitchen towel. Mushrooms, chopped zucchini or summer squash, sliced asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes or broccoli florets would also be good vegetable choices.
Aromatics and Herbs and Spices: Onion and garlic pump up the flavor, tomato paste adds that Italian flare without making the mixture too wet while chopped basil leaves add a fragrant freshness. Salt, crushed red pepper flakes and garlic powder for savoriness with a tiny bit of heat.
Cheese: A shredded mozzarella is just perfect to combine throughout the filling to give a melty, creaminess to the rice. While the nutty, parmesan cheese is used on top in addition to more mozzarella to bubbly, golden brown crust. Other good choices would be Fontina or Provolone!
Steps to Make Healthy Chicken Sausage Italian Stuffed Peppers:
Preheat oven to 375° F lightly coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or olive oil. Slice bell peppers in half and inner seeds and membrane. Arrange cut side up in the prepared baking dish.
Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet or stainless steel skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken sausage, and cook to just to brown the outside. Using a wooden spoon to break apart big pieces.
After about 5 minutes, when sausage has a good sear, transfer to separate plate and set aside for now.
Heat another tbsp olive oil to skillet, and saute onions with tomato paste. Cook 3 minutes or until just softened and translucent.
Add garlic and chopped spinach, and cook until spinach is wilted.
Remove skillet from heat. Add to it, the chicken sausage, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, garlic powder, cooked rice and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Mix together to combine. This your Stuffed Pepper filling.
Mound the filling into the prepared bell peppers.
Top each pepper with the remaining mozzarella cheese and grated parmesan.
Pour a bit of water into the pan with the peppers—just enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Bake uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes, until the peppers are tender and the cheese is melted and golden brown.
That’s it!! Just look at those gorgeous stuffed peppers- tender soft on the outside, crunchy on the top, melty and gooey in the middle! OH.MY.LORD- they are just so good!!!
Can You Make Stuffed Peppers Ahead of Time or Freeze?
Yes and Yes!
If you use the weekends to get a jump start on meal prep, stuffed peppers are a perfect dish for you. You could assemble these all the way in advanced and keep them refrigerated, unbaked. Or you could even just prep the filling in ahead of time.
To make in advance and freeze, I recommend freezing these stuffed peppers after they’ve been cooked. Simply, bake, let cool and then store baked Italian stuffed peppers in a freezer-safe container cut side up. They will keep for about 3 months.
When you are ready to have them, remove from freezer and let the stuffed peppers thaw overnight in the refrigerator. You could either microwave to heat in oven at 350 for about 10-15 minutes.
Italian Stuffed Peppers with Chicken Sausage and Spinach
- 3 Large Bell Peppers any color- I prefer red
- 1 lb Sweet Italian Chicken Sausage casing removed
- ½ yellow onion chopped
- 3 clove garlic minced
- 3 cups baby spinach fresh, chopped
- 1½ cup brown rice, cooked OR white rice, mulitgrain, farro, or quinoa
- ⅛ cup fresh basil chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- 1¼ cup mozzarella cheese shredded, divided
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese grated
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 375° F lightly coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray or olive oil
- Slice bell peppers in half and inner seeds and membrane. Arrange cut side up in the prepared baking dish.
- Heat 1tbsp olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet or stainless steel skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken sausage, and cook to brown the outside. Using a wooden spoon to break apart big pieces.
- After about 5 minutes, when sausage has a good sear, transfer to separate plate and set aside for now.
- Heat another tbsp olive oil to skillet, and saute onions with tomato paste. Cook 3 minutes or until just softened and translucent.
- Add garlic and chopped spinach, and cool until spinach is wilted.
- Remove skillet from heat, then add :chicken sausage, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, garlic powder, cooked rice and 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Mix together to combine.
- Use this filling to stuff the cavities of the prepared bell peppers. Top each pepper with the remaining mozzarella cheese and grated parmesan.
- Pour a bit of water into the pan with the peppers—just enough to barely cover the bottom of the pan. Bake uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes, until the peppers are tender and the cheese is melted and golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!