Turkey Parmesan Stuffed Peppers
Everyone loves stuffed bell peppers. Or, everyone thinks they do until they dig into an unseasoned, watery vegetable filled with dry, overcooked beef. There might be a suggestion of tomato sauce inside, or an overwhelming amount of cheese. But there is never a big, bold flavor statement where there so easily could be.
So I set out to develop a recipe for the best stuffed peppers with ground turkey and tomato sauce — one that finally lived up to expectation. I decided to go with turkey stuffed peppers rather than beef, because that’s what I had on hand at the time. Plus, ground turkey opens up so many more possibilities for flavor combinations than ground beef. Why not chicken Parmesan stuffed peppers, you ask? It would make more sense, I know. But ground chicken is always hard to find at my grocery store, and it’s often extra-lean and will cook up into dry, crumbly pieces. If you can find 85% lean ground chicken — no higher, which will be drier — feel free to use it here.
I got all of my best tools ready: I planned to dice and deep-fry, I imagined breadcrumbs and butter, I prepped pile of shredded cheese. Then, I got lazy.
And that’s when I struck gold.
How to make turkey parmesan stuffed peppers
Turns out, tomato sauce, ground meat, and cheese are the only things you need to make excellent stuffed peppers, you just have to treat them better than that dude who always brings them to game day. The key to making healthy stuffed peppers with ground turkey is to treat both the inside and the outside of the stuffed peppers as equally important parts of the meal. The pepper is not just the venue for the stuffing, it’s the opening act.
Start by rubbing down cleaned, halved bell peppers with vinegar and olive oil until they shine like new silverware. Season them lightly with salt and pepper.
Do you have to cook meat before stuffing peppers?
I prefer to cook the meat before stuffing peppers, as it helps some of the moisture cook off and renders the fat to ensure that your stuffed peppers won’t become watery or greasy. The USDA agrees, but for a different reason: Precooking raw meat before stuffing it in the peppers reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Win-win!
So, cook up ground turkey with plenty of salt and spices, then drench it in tomato sauce and toss it with well-seasoned rice. Adding rice in your stuffed peppers increases the portion size and also turns this into a complete meal (protein + veggie + grain). Stuffed peppers with ground turkey and brown rice makes something that, in my mind at least, is healthy enough to enjoy leftovers all week, but cheesy enough to actually make you excited about dinner.
Another important step: Taste the cooked filling and adjust the seasonings as necessary, until it’ so irresistible you start wondering if you should just eat it out of the pan and forget the whole stuffed pepper thing.
But it’s about to get so much better.
A bit of time in the oven (while you have a seat and read that magazine from last November) sweetens and softens the peppers. They hold their shape but surrender easily to the side of a fork. The stuffing tumbles onto your plate in a juicy, tomato-y mess.
Dinner is served, in a glistening, edible box.
Turkey Parmesan Stuffed Peppers
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
- 1 lb ground turkey (preferably 85% lean, anything leaner will be drier so if that's all you can find, add more oil to the pan in step one)
- Kosher salt
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 3 bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar, to taste
- 1 24-oz jar marinara sauce, divided
- 1 ½ cups cooked rice or quinoa (about ½ cup dry, or use microwave rice here- it works in a pinch!)
- 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/4 cup)
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded, torn, or sliced
- First off, I would recommend prepping all of your ingredients before getting started. It will make the cooking process for this recipe a lot smoother.
- Heat a large skillet on medium-low. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and onion and cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute or so, until fragrant. Add ground turkey, increase heat to medium, and use the back of a spoon to smash it into large pieces. Cook without stirring until lightly browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, granulated garlic, oregano, parsley, and continue to cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces until mostly cooked through, 1-2 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, heat oven to 400°F. Season bell peppers with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the red wine vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread all but 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Arrange bell peppers on top of the sauce in the baking dish. Add to the oven while it heats so that the peppers have a head-start on cooking, at least 10 minutes.
- Add remaining 1 ½ cups marinara sauce to the turkey mixture and simmer for about 3 minutes, until the turkey is completely cooked through. Turn off heat, stir in cooked rice and Parmesan. Taste, add more salt if needed. Generously spoon the turkey mixture into each pepper half and top with mozzarella cheese.
- Cover baking dish tightly with aluminum foil (you can spray the underside of the foil with nonstick cooking spray so the cheese doesn't stick to it) and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly, the cheese has melted and the peppers are tender. Uncover, increase heat to 425°F, and continue to cook until the cheese has lightly browned, 5-10 minutes more.
- I would suggest a red wine with ripe fruit flavors such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Zinfandel. These types of wines will pair nicely with the bell pepper’s subtle tang and earthiness and the stuffing’s savory richness.