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Stuffed main dishes for your dinner

Geoff Peters/wickimedia commons

Enjoy some old-time comfort food this winter with delicious cabbage rolls.


So many times I watched (and helped) my Italian grandmother as she prepared dinner. Most of the vegetables came from her garden, and since my grandparents had a ranch, most of the meat was home raised, too.

She was always in her little kitchen and I guess I inherited that trait. She used to stuff a lot of the vegetables, such as cabbage, eggplant and bell peppers, as well as pastas such as manicotti.

This cold weather makes me hungry for such hearty fare, and if you like it too, here are a few recipes just for you. Stay warm and safe as we make our way through winter.

Cabbage rolls

12 leaves cabbage

1 cup cooked white rice

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup minced onion

1 pound extra-lean ground beef

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper

1 can (8-oz.) tomato sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Boil cabbage leaves 2 minutes; drain.

2. In large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup cooked rice, egg, milk, onion, ground beef, salt and pepper. Place about 1/4 cup of meat mixture in center of each cabbage leaf, and roll up, tucking in ends. Place rolls in slow cooker.

3. In a small bowl, mix tomato sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over cabbage rolls. Cover and cook on Low 8 to 9 hours. Makes 6 servings of 2 rolls each.

Stuffed eggplant

1 large eggplant

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 pound ground beef

1 onion, diced small (about 1 cup)

1 red bell pepper, diced small (about 1 cup)

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

1 1/4 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

1/2 cup panko crumbs

1 egg

2 small tomatoes, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut the eggplant in half and scoop out the center, leaving enough meat inside the skin so that it holds its shape when baked. Chop eggplant that has been scooped out of the inside; place in saucepan, cover with water and boil until very soft, 10 to 12 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the seasoned ground beef to the pan, and saute until the beef begins to brown slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool briefly, and chop the cooked beef so there are no large chunks of meat. In another medium pan over medium heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and saute the onion, pepper and garlic together in the oil.

3. In a bowl, mix together the cooked eggplant, vegetables, beef, herbs, 1 cup of the cheese, 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs and the egg. Fill the scooped-out eggplant halves with this mixture, dividing it evenly between the two halves.

4. Top with chopped tomatoes, the remaining 1/4 cup cheese, remaining 1/4 cup bread crumbs, and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Place on an oiled oven tray or baking dish, and bake for 50 minutes. Let cool briefly; slice across the width and serve.

Meat and cheese manicotti

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

1 pound ground beef, or a pork and beef blend

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

14 (an 8-oz. package) manicotti

1 container (15-oz.) whole-milk ricotta cheese

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

3 cups marinara sauce, divided

2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

1. Heat a heavy medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, onion and ground meat. Saute until the meat is browned and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

2. Brush 1 teaspoon oil over a large baking sheet. Cook the manicotti in a large pot of boiling salted water until slightly softened but still very form to the bite, about 4 to 6 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the manicotti from the pot to the oiled baking sheet, and allow the pasta to cool.

3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 1/2 to 2 cups mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan and parsley. Add the garlic, salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Stir the cooled meat mixture into the cheese mixture. Preheat oven to 350.

4. Brush the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil over a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the marinara sauce across the bottom of the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly. Fill the manicotti with the meat and cheese mixture. Arrange the stuffed pasta in a single layer in the baking dish and spoon the remaining marinara sauce over them.

5. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese over the top, then the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Dot with the butter pieces. Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, until heated through and the sauce bubbles along the sides of the dish, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let the manicotti stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 6 servings.

Stuffed bell peppers

Sometimes I use chorizo (cooked, crumbled and degreased with paper towels) instead of ground beef, and bulgur wheat instead of rice. I also like to cut the bell peppers in half lengthwise instead of cutting the tops off, so they lie flat better.

1 pound ground beef

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1 1/2 cups instant white rice or half-cooked plain white rice

1 cup water

2 cups tomato sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 cups beef broth

6 bell peppers, cut in half through the stem and cleaned

Parmesan cheese, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 and heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add in the ground beef, breaking it apart as it cooks, then remove it from the skillet and drain the fat, if any.

2. Add the olive oil and onions, reduce heat to medium and cook 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, rice, water, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, kosher salt, black pepper and Italian seasoning into the skillet and mix thoroughly. Add the beef broth to a large baking dish.

3. Stuff bell peppers with meat and rice mixture and arrange in the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake in preheated oven for 60 minutes. Garnish before serving with Parmesan cheese, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

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