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A New Twist On Stuffed Peppers

The beginning of fall always heralds heartier, warmer meals. That’s what we do it in the winter months — sort of like hibernating for humans!

“Animals prepare for winter by fattening up and then sleeping through it.  In humans, that is not practical. So, instead, we eat more and gain weight through the winter,” says Dr. Margaret Austen, a researcher at the University of Hobart, Australia.

Many of us are less active and lower energy through the colder months so it’s important to stay diligent about eating healthfully. We should continue to eat lots of vegetables and lean proteins. And we know it’s always best to eat what’s in season; that means lots of squash, root vegetables and potatoes, including sweet potatoes!

Here’s a recipe that uses butternut squash and bell peppers…perfect for this time of year when we might have a few peppers still in the garden. You can substitute the chicken sausage with turkey and the squash for wild rice for a more traditional dish. I always make my own marinara sauce but to save time you could use a store-bought one. Just be sure to check the ingredients for added sugar.

Stuffed Peppers with Chicken Sausage and Butternut Squash

1 medium butternut squash to make 2 cups “rice”
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups marinara sauce ( follow recipe below to make your own)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

For The Peppers:

1 package organic chicken-apple sausage without casing
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper
4-5 large bell peppers in assorted colors, halved lengthwise and seeded

For the Marinara Sauce

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I recommend Cento brand)
1/2 cup filtered water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar — to cut acidity

Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium pot. Add the garlic and cook until golden then remove from pan and discard. Turn the heat down and slowly pour the tomatoes into the pot being careful to avoid splattering. Add the water, salt, pepper, basil and sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer at a low boil for at least 30 minutes. The longer, the better.

Preheat the oven to 375º.

Make Butternut Squash “Rice.” Peel and chop a medium butternut squash into chunks. Add about half to a food processor and process until it resembles rice. Make enough for about 2 cups.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and cook onion over medium heat until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for another minute. Transfer half of the onion/garlic mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

To the skillet with the onion add the marinara sauce, broth, balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir for one minute.

Pour sauce into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish and set aside.

Chop the sausage into chunks. Add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles ground beef.

To the bowl with the reserved onions add the sausage, diced tomato, parsley, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Stir in the butternut squash rice and mix well.

Generously stuff peppers with sausage mixture and place in baking dish over the tomato sauce. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Remove foil and cook for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, serve with a fresh green salad and enjoy!