Oh, these stuffed peppers are so good! This is a "totally from scratch" recipe that I created in order to make good use of the abundance of fresh vegetables and herbs from our garden. It's rather time-consuming, but it is really worth the effort. It may be prepared in stages, if preferred. You can make the sauce ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to 3 days. You may also prepare the breadcrumb topping and cook the meat ahead of time. I hope you love my Puttanesca Peppers as much as we do!
*NOTE: If locally grown, non-greenhouse tomatoes are not available, canned san marzano tomatoes (Italian plum tomatoes) may be substituted for fresh.
Gather and prep all ingredients.
To a 5 to 7 quart nonreactive dutch oven or sauce pot (I use nonstick,) add the first 13 ingredients (tomatoes to anchovies, minus 1 teaspoon oil reserved for topping and 1 teaspoon of reserved 1 teaspoon basil for adding to meat mixture prior to stuffing.)
Bring to boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently for 1/2 hour.
While sauce is cooking, add sweet Italian sausage and ground beef to a large skillet.
Cook and brown meats over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until meat is thoroughly cooked and most of liquid has evaporated (remember to stir sauce while browning meat.)
Place meat in wire mesh strainer over a container to catch grease; drain well; place meat in a bowl, cover and refrigerate if making ahead of time. Discard grease.
After sauce has simmered for first half hour, add chopped olives; simmer additional 20 minutes, stirring frequently (sauce will reduce by at least half.) During this time, begin simmering peppers (see next step.)
To a large sauce pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, add 2 cups water; place prepared bell peppers, open end down in pot.
Bring water to boil, cover with lid, reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 15-18 minutes, until tender (to your liking.)
After sauce has simmered the additional 20 minutes after adding olives, add capers; simmer additional 5 to 10 minutes. You should have at least 2 cups of sauce.
Remove sauce from heat; remove and discard bay leaf.
Pour into heat resistant container, allow to cool slightly, cover and refrigerate if making ahead of time.
After peppers have simmered for 20 minutes, use tongs to remove peppers, drain and place, open end up, in a baking dish that is large enough to hold all the peppers, or into 2 smaller baking dishes.
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
If meat and sauce has been refrigerated, reheat to warm on stovetop or in microwave, 20 to 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each.
To meat, add 1 1/2 cups of the prepared sauce and reserved 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, mixing well.
Add 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese to meat mixture; mix thoroughly to combine well.
Spoon meat sauce mixture, equally, into peppers.
Prepare topping: In a small bowl combine together well, reserved 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, reserved 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, reserved 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt.
Equally top each stuffed pepper with prepared topping.
Bake, uncovered, at 350ºF for 1 hour and 15 minutes, turning dish after 40 minutes. If breadcrumb mixture begins to brown more than desired, cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil.
Heat remaining 1/2 cup sauce; spoon equally onto serving plates; place a pepper on top of sauce on each plate.
Garnish with fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and/or parmesan, if desired.
Serve immediately. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Stuffed peppers may be completely assembled, wrapped and frozen for another day. Thaw in refrigerator 12-24 hours before baking.