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These Stuffed Italian Peppers are classic old-school comfort food and make a great weeknight meal. The filling is a savory combo of those Italian American ingredients that we all love — Italian pork sausage, ground beef, fresh mozzarella, pecorino, herbs, spinach and tiny pasta — and the finished dish has a wonderful depth of flavor. Read on to learn more!
These Stuffed Italian Peppers have ‘memories of mom’ written all over them! Sometimes, when I haven’t had them in a while, I forget how much I really do love them. Quite honestly, stuffed peppers are not generally one of my go-to dishes that I think about making on a regular basis, but they are quite tasty and rather well-balanced to boot! I was inspired to make this recipe after a visit to the local farmers’ market where beautiful and colorful peppers were ‘in abbondanza’. You can use almost any pepper for this dish, and I used a variety of types.
A Little Twist . . .
While I love the flavors and textures of the classic version, I wanted to create something slightly different from the traditional blend of ground beef and rice. I added a few other ingredients to up the savoriness factor and round out the flavor–Italian pork sausage, spinach, fresh basil and parsley, onions, garlic, some cooked tiny pasta in place of the usual rice, and a healthy dose of sharp and salty Pecorino Romano cheese to add a hint of sharpness. I then roasted the stuffed peppers over flavorful marinara and topped them with more mozzarella for a creamy finish.
These Stuffed Italian Peppers are a great option for a make-ahead weeknight dinner as they heat up well and will last several days in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can make and stuff the peppers in advance, then bake them one-to-two days later with great success.
To make Italian Stuffed Peppers, we will be using the following ingredients:
- Peppers: Lots of different varieties of peppers can be stuffed successfully using this recipe! The most popular type are bell peppers in different colors for great eye appeal. I don’t suggest using green bell peppers for this dish as they lack the sweetness of the red, yellow and orange varieties, but feel free to use them if you prefer their flavor.
- I used a combination of bell (sweet), santa fe (medium heat) and lipstick (sweet) peppers when I made this, but, quite honestly, you can use almost any of your favorite pepper. Other than very small hot peppers that are primarily used for their heat component, this is a perfect time to try out some new types and see how you like them. Whichever pepper you choose, be sure to remove all seeds and the membranes. Keep the stems on for aesthetics only; otherwise, remove them.
- Ground Beef: I used 80/20 grass-fed ground beef in this dish, but any ground beef will work well.
- Italian Pork Sausage: After removing the casings, I combined the sausage mixture with the ground meat and other ingredients. Use hot or fennel sausage if you prefer!
- Pasta: I used an unusual shape of pasta called semi-cicoria that is basically a very small version of orzo. Orzo and other small pastas could work as well. Traditionally, rice is used in this dish.
- Spinach: I like to add nutritious green vegetables whenever I can while I am cooking, and I always have frozen chopped spinach on hand for just this reason! Of course, use fresh steamed or sautéed spinach if you want—just be sure to chop it finely.
- Using the frozen chopped spinach just makes this recipe easier to prepare overall. The only consideration is to be sure to fully defrost the frozen spinach and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. I will generally use a small colander and a fork to do this, but sometimes I will heat it in a pan on medium heat and let the liquid evaporate that way.
- Eggs: Bind the mixture together.
- Marinara/Tomato Basil Sauce: This is used on the bottom of the baking pan and then the peppers are arranged on top of it. It adds moisture to the cooking process, but also provides a complementary built-in sauce for the finished dish.
- Fresh Mozzarella: Just because.
- Pecorino Romano Cheese: Adds sharpness and saltiness to the filling – in a good way!
The Aromatics . . .
- Onions and Garlic: No explanation necessary! Other than to say, small dice and minced work best in this recipe.
- Fresh Basil and Parsley: These add flavor and beautiful brightness to the overall dish, especially when used as a garnish too!
- Salt and Black Pepper: Always to your taste and always freshly ground black pepper, if possible!
A complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions is included in the recipe below.
Step-By-Step, Pro-Tips included!
Here are the main steps for how to make these savory Stuffed Italian Peppers:
- Prep and measure all ingredients. Be sure to rinse all vegetables before using. For the peppers, be sure to slice them lengthwise through the stem and remove all the seeds and membranes.
- PRO-TIP: Leave the pepper stems on if you prefer it visually for the final dish. Otherwise, remove the stem as well.
- Undercook the pasta! It will be cooked again in the oven, so cooking it 1-2 minutes less than al-dente is ideal. Be sure to cool the cooked pasta before mixing it with the other ingredients.
- PRO-TIP: Mixing in a little olive oil here will prevent the pasta from sticking together.
- Make the stuffing by mixing all the filling ingredients together until they are well-combined.
- PRO-TIP: The filling mixture can be made in advance and held, covered, in the refrigerator for one to two days until you are ready to use it.
- Stuff the peppers with the filling.
- PRO-TIP: The peppers can be stuffed and held raw, covered in the refrigerator, for up to one day before baking.
- Nestle the stuffed peppers securely over marinara in a baking dish and bake. Once they reach the required internal temperature, top them off with some cheese, then return them to the oven for a couple minutes to allow the cheese to melt. That’s it!
- Garnish with some fresh basil and enjoy them warm!
Recipe Variations for Stuffed Italian Peppers
A few ideas for twists on Stuffed Italian Peppers:
- Change the Protein: You can absolutely use any ground meat that you would like in this recipe, be it turkey, chicken, 100% beef or anything else. Some meats and blends are more lean than others and may affect the texture of the resulting dish. You can also substitute chicken or turkey sausage for the pork sausage.
- Make it Vegetarian or Vegan: Using lentils or a plant-based protein in place of the meat is a great way to make this dish more plant-forward. In addition, eliminate the egg and cheeses in this dish to make it 100% plant- based and vegan. The stuffing mixture may be a bit crumbly and less cohesive as a result, though. Also, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning of the filling before stuffing the peppers.
- Add Some Heat! Add a pinch of crushed red pepper in either the stuffing mixture, the marinara, or both! You can also add some heat by using hot Italian sausage in the filling.
- Make it Whole Grain, Gluten-Free or Carb-Friendly: Feel free to leave out the pasta completely or substitute with a gluten-free alternative like quinoa or brown rice. If you leave this element out of the recipe completely in order to make it carb-friendly, the flavor will still be great, but you will yield less stuffing for the peppers (and, therefore, overall stuffed peppers).
- Try a Different Cheese or Dairy Product: Use regular mozzarella, provolone, monterey jack, or havarti as a substitute for the fresh mozzarella. Each cheese gives a completely different flavor to the dish. Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano are also great alternatives for the Pecorino Romano.
- For a crispier finish, sprinkle some breadcrumbs on the peppers after topping them with the additional cheeses. Then, broil them for about 1-2 minutes.
What to Serve With Stuffed Italian Peppers
Stuffed Italian Peppers are a hearty main course dish. But, if made with small peppers, it can be a starter or primo piatto‘.
If you are serving this as a main course for a weeknight dinner, all you really need to accompany it is a light green salad with vinaigrette, or perhaps some simple sautéed greens. A little crusty bread would also go well.
Kitchen Tools & Cookware for Stuffed Italian Peppers
To make this Stuffed Italian Peppers recipe, you will need the following:
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Multiple bowls to hold prep
- Cutting board with non-slip mat underneath (I use shelf liner)
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Pot to cook pasta
- Mesh colander to drain pasta and frozen spinach
- Fork to beat eggs and press liquid out of frozen spinach
- Cheese grater (optional)
- Nonstick 13 ½” x 9 ½” baking pan
- Stem thermometer
- Oven mitts
- Large spoon or turner to remove finished peppers and sauce
- Serving platter and serving utensils
More Great Recipes to Try
If you’ve tried this recipe or any other recipe on the blog, please let me know how it went in the comments below — I love hearing from you!
Stuffed Italian Peppers
For the Filling:
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound bulk hot or sweet Italian pork sausage, casings removed
- 1 heaping cup yellow onion, small diced
- 1/2 cup cup (dry) orzo or other small pasta, cooked, drained and mixed with 1 tsp olive oil
- 6 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and completely strained
- 1/3 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, small diced (reserve a small amount for the top of the peppers)
- 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (reserve a small amount for the top of the peppers)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 Tbsp finely minced garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp salt
- pinch freshly ground black pepper
For the Stuffed Peppers:
- 4 bell peppers, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds and membranes removed, rinsed and dried (See NOTE about peppers below.)
- 1 cup marinara or tomato basil sauce
- Reserved cheese from above
- Additional fresh basil for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350◦F.
- Prep all ingredients according to specifications above, including cooking and cooling the pasta.
- Mix all filling ingredients together in a small bowl until well-combined, then set aside.
- Carefully stuff each pepper half securely with the filling, packing it in.
- Cover the bottom of a nonstick 13 ½”x9 ½” baking pan with the marinara, then nestle the stuffed peppers in the pan, arranging them in rows, stuffing side up.
- Bake them uncovered in a 350◦F oven on the middle rack for about one hour or until they have reached an internal temperature of 165◦F.
- Remove the pan from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 400◦F, then sprinkle the reserved mozzarella and pecorino on the roasted stuffed peppers.
- Return the pan to the oven for another few minutes or until the cheese has melted.
- Serve warm with additional fresh basil. Buon Appetito!
- Undercook the pasta! It will be cooked again in the oven, so cooking it 1-2 minutes less than al dente is ideal. Be sure to cool the cooked pasta before mixing it with the other ingredients and mix in a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
- This filling mixture can be made in advance and held, covered, in the refrigerator for one to two days until you are ready to use it.
- The peppers can be stuffed and held, raw, in the refrigerator for up to one day before baking.
- If you have filling leftover after having stuffed all the pepper halves, form them into small meatballs and pan-fry them for a snack!