All the flavors of Tuscany are tucked into these Stuffed Italian Peppers: artichokes, cannellini beans, Tuscan kale, and kalamata olives in a savory tomato sauce topped with walnuts and pesto Parmesan bread crumbs. An easy and healthy weeknight dinner or meatless Monday meal without rice.
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You’re going to love these
Vegetarian. Cannellini beans add so much creaminess, texture, and protein to these stuffed Italian peppers, no one will wonder where the meat is.
Tuscan flavors. If you love the savory flavors of Tuscany, you’re in for a treat. Herbaceous artichokes, earthy kale, and briney olives baked into a rich tomato sauce create an exquisite stuffing for these baked peppers.
So easy. You’ll be amazed by the deep flavors you’re able to achieve with so little fuss. These stuffed Italian peppers are definitely easy enough for a weeknight dinner, but impressive enough for guests.
Stuffed peppers without rice. If you’re looking for ways to swap in some healthier carbs, no need to scramble for a rice substitute in these stuffed Italian peppers. The starchiness of the beans holds the sauce together beautifully without rice.
Healthy stuffed peppers. Traditional stuffed pepper recipes are usually filled with ground beef, white rice, and lots and lots of cheese. These stuffed Italian peppers are loaded with beans, kale, and artichokes. A mere two tablespoons of Parmesan cheese are mixed with pesto and bread crumbs for a flavorful topping that also delivers a crunch factor.
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
Olive oil. I used olive oil to saute the onion, because it cooks on medium-medium high heat-- which isn't crazy hot. But you can use canola oil or a 50/50 mix of olive oil and canola oil — which is a handy all-purpose oil to have in your kitchen.
Here's why. Certain olive oils can have a low smoke point, which means it will burn at a lower temperature. Canola oil, alternatively, has a higher smoke point, and can withstand higher heat. Mixing olive oil and canola oil allows you to cash in on the flavor of the olive oil and still cook at higher temperatures.
Onion. I just happened to have fresh white onions from my parents' garden, so that’s what I used. Yellow onions will add sweetness, but really any kind of onion will taste delicious in stuffed Italian peppers. You need about ½ cup.
Italian seasoning. Italian seasoning is typically made from basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram. You might also see sage in there sometimes. If you don’t have Italian seasoning, you can use a combination of these herbs, such as half oregano, half basil. Or half oregano, one-quarter basil, and one quarter thyme.
If you have a fully stocked herb garden, of course, you will want to use fresh herbs. Just remember one teaspoon of dried herbs is equal to one tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Red pepper flakes. Stuffed Italian peppers are not hot and spicy. By any stretch. The pinch of red pepper flakes adds a slight zing, but if you are not able to do any kind of spice, you can certainly leave it out. Alternatively, if you love spicy foods, go ahead and throw in more!
Marinara sauce. Use your favorite tomato sauce or marinara sauce in this recipe. I am really picky about the tomato sauces and marinara sauces I buy because so many of them have loads of sugar in them and are drenched in fat. The one I’m currently using the most is Kirkland brand marinara from Costco. It’s thick and rich, relatively low in sugar and fat — and it’s affordable.
Cannellini beans. Stuffed Italian peppers just beg for classic Italian cannellini beans. They hold their shape well during cooking — or you can lightly mash them a little to thicken the sauce. And they’re a fantastic source of protein. But really, you can use any kind of bean you like. Great Northern beans, navy beans, butterbeans, kidney beans, or chickpeas would all be great!
Artichokes. I used canned artichokes in water because I didn’t want all the oil that comes in the jarred artichokes — which, don’t get me wrong, definitely have their time and place. Just not in my stuffed Italian peppers. I was also looking for what was most affordable, and canned artichokes won. If you’re not a fan of artichokes, you can sub in Brussels sprouts or zucchini.
Kale. Cooked kale adds nice body and texture to these stuffed Italian peppers, not to mention, earthy flavor. I used Tuscan kale, but any kind of kale will do. If you’re not into kale, you can use spinach or any other hardy leafy green.
Kalamata olives. Kalamata olives are little flavor pellets that also provide a little fattiness and saltiness to the rich tomato sauce. If you love a different kind of olive better, by all means, substitute away. Or leave them out if you’re not into them.
Panko bread crumbs. I love using panko bread crumbs because they are super duper crispy. And I always go for plain bread crumbs vs. seasoned because the seasoning can get a little overpowering — and I’m never quite sure what’s in it. Starting with plain bread crumbs means I get to control the flavors.
Pesto. Pesto panko bread crumbs just might be my new favorite thing to use on everything from chicken to fish — and really anything else I can think of. Jarred pesto works fine, but of course, homemade pesto is always better.
Parmesan cheese. There is very little Parmesan cheese in this recipe. We’re talking 2 tablespoons for the whole recipe. Because when it’s mixed in with pesto (which also has Parmesan in it) and panko, a little really does go a long way. You can use any other hard Italian cheese like Romano, Asiago, or Manchego.
Walnuts. Walnuts bring even more crunch, texture, and heart-healthy fats to these stuffed Italian peppers. Pine nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, or pistachios would also make perfect sense.
How to make Stuffed Italian Peppers
Turn the oven to broil. Spray a 9x13 casserole dish with cooking spray.
Cut the tops off of your peppers, like a pumpkin. Then cut each pepper in half. Remove the membranes and seeds.
Salt and pepper the insides of each pepper and turn them face-down on a sheet pan.
Place the sheet pan under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the flesh just begins to blister. I was going for a bit of char, but you can remove them before they get to that point, if you prefer. Cooking the peppers before stuffing them ensures that your stuffed Italian peppers will be soft, and not crunchy.
Turn the oven down to 425.
Add the olive oil, onion, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes to a saute pan over medium-medium high heat. Saute until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, add one cup of tomato sauce, and simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
Stir in the drained cannellini beans, artichokes, chopped kale, and olives. Stir and continue to cook until the kale softens and everything comes together. You may wish to lightly mash some of the cannellini beans to thicken the sauce, if needed.
In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup panko, 2 tablespoons pesto, 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts.
Spread one cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish.
Lay the peppers, face-up on top of the tomato sauce. Fill the peppers with the bean and artichoke mixture. Top each pepper with some of the pesto panko bread crumbs.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bread crumb topping is golden brown. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover it with foil.
Top with a a few dots of pesto and even more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the savory sauce.
Stuffed Italian Peppers (No Rice)
- 4 peppers
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes
- 2 cups marinara sauce (divided)
- 1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 14 oz. can quartered artichoke hearts in water, drained
- 4 cups chopped Tuscan kale
- ¼ cup sliced kalamata olives
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
- 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- Additional pesto and Parmesan cheese
- Turn the oven to broil. Spray a 9X13 casserole dish with cooking spray.
- Cut the tops off of your peppers, like a pumpkin. Then cut each pepper in half. Remove the membranes and seeds.
- Salt and pepper the insides of each pepper and turn them face-down on a sheet pan.
- Place the sheet pan under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the flesh just begins to blister. Cooking the peppers before stuffing them ensures that your Italian stuffed peppers will be soft, and not al dente.
- Turn the oven down to 425.
- Add the olive oil, onion, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes to a saute pan of medium-medium high heat. Saute until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium, add one cup of tomato sauce, and simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes.
- Stir in the drained cannellini beans, artichokes, chopped kale, and olives. Stir and continue to cook until the kale softens and everything comes together. You may wish to lightly mash some of the cannellini beans to thicken the sauce, if needed.
- In a small bowl, stir together ½ cup panko, 2 tablespoons pesto, 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts.
- Spread one cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish.
- Lay the peppers, face-up on top of the tomato sauce. Fill the peppers with the bean and artichoke mixture. Top each pepper with some of the pesto panko bread crumbs.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bread crumb topping is golden brown. If the tops start to brown too quickly, cover it with foil.
- Top with a few dots of pesto and even more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty bread to sop up the savory sauce.
Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Because the stuffing mixture is already cooked, you’re really just warming everything up in the oven for 15-20 minutes, which isn’t long enough to soften the peppers. If you want your stuffed peppers to be soft, I recommend cooking them in advance. If you like a crunchy pepper, then skip the pre-cooking and stuff them raw.
How to Cook Peppers Before Stuffing
There are a couple of methods you can use to pre-cook your peppers before stuffing them.
Boiling peppers. Fill a large pot with water and immerse the peppers into the water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the water boil for about three minutes, or until the peppers soften. Remove the peppers and place them in cool water.
Broiling peppers. This is by far my favorite method of pre-cooking peppers. Place your peppers, cut side down on a baking sheet under the broiler for 5 minutes or until the skin begins to slightly char. Remove the peppers and cover with a kitchen towel until you’re ready to use them
Did you know there’s a difference, nutrition-wise, between green, yellow, orange, and red bell peppers? According to webmd.com, red peppers win the most nutritious award because they have more beta-carotene and vitamin C than the others. Why? Because the red peppers have spent more time on the vine.
Yes, you can freeze peppers before or after baking them.
Before baking: prepare the stuffed peppers all the way up to the point of adding the bread crumb mixture. Let the peppers cool, then wrap tightly in plastic and again in foil. Freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator. Prepare the bread crumbs and add them to the peppers right before baking.
After baking. Let the peppers cool completely, then wrap tightly in plastic and again in foil. Thaw in the refrigerator. Bake the peppers at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
Yes. You have a couple of options for reheating these stuffed Italian peppers.
In the oven: Bake in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165 and the bread crumbs are crispy. Cover with foil if the topping gets too brown before the peppers are warm.
Microwave/oven combo: Heat the peppers in the microwave until warm, then place them under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to crisp the bread crumbs.
NordicWare Baking Sheets
In case you can’t tell by my photos of the broiled peppers, I use my NordicWare baking sheets a lot. And I don’t care that they look like I do. They’re a super thick gauge, which keeps them from warping through all the things I put them through.
This heavy-bottomed skillet gets a workout in my kitchen. It’s super durable and the thick bottom means it cooks evenly. It goes from the stove top to the oven like a champ, shines up nicely with steel wool, and the handle is, well, handy.