Italian stuffed mini peppers with Gorgonzola and caramelized onions

Do you have anxiety about your appetizer being chosen last from a table of options? I feel you. I really do. I feel like I’m still haunted by my elementary school days of not loving typical sandwiches and instead loving things like egg salad. And being at the lunch table and trying to sneakily take bites of my sandwich from the corner of a cracked open baggie, like *please God don’t let the sights or smells escape to anyone around me*. But unfortunate news flash: it’s egg salad and the town over can smell it as soon as the tupperware lid is cracked. The number of days I wanted to eat whatever my weird lunch was, but was too scared and bought something instead, is a large, large figure.

That feeling has stuck with me in adulthood because guess what, weird lunches are still weird, even today. But the school cafeteria is now the break room at work, or the potluck table for dinner. Thankfully I’m a little more confident today than I was as a third grader, i.e. no stares or comments are coming between me and my egg salad at lunch time (is that pride or is that an inability to not eat the food that’s around me?). Regardless, I digress... but with these Italian stuffed peppers, you'll never be the person worrying about their food again. This appetizer is sure to be gobbled up quickly by hungry, judgy people deciding which bites to try and which to avoid.

I wanted to make stuffed mini peppers, but I didn’t want to go the more common Mexican route, which of course is delicious too—jalapeños stuffed with goat cheese and honey and wrapped in bacon are a long-time favorite. I was craving something closer to lasagna stuffed peppers, but with a couple of twists. I always love the combination of Italian sausage, Gorgonzola cheese, and caramelized onions. The trio is so delicious here, with the cream cheese rounding out the texture of the Gorgonzola, and the addition of lots of fresh basil and parsley.

Italian stuffed mini peppers with Gorgonzola and caramelized onions

Yields 20-24 stuffed peppers, depending on size
½ cup cream cheese, room temperature
⅓ cup Gorgonzola cheese (or your favorite blue cheese)
¼ cup basil chiffonade (leaves rolled tight and sliced into thin strips)
2 T finely chopped parsley
Pinch salt
1 hot Italian sausage link (you'll be removing sausage from its casing)
½ sweet onion, cut in half and sliced into thin strips
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
Another pinch salt
Pinch white sugar
Mini sweet peppers (about 20-24)
Flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the center position. Prepare a muffin tin* with cooking spray. In a bowl, stir together cream cheese and Gorgonzola. Add in basil, parsley, and a pinch of salt, and stir to incorporate. Set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. Heat a small frying pan over medium-low heat, and squeeze sausage out of its casing into pan to be crumbled as it cooks. When sausage is just cooked through, remove from pan and add to cheese mixture. Add butter and olive oil to pan, and reduce heat to low. Add onion, pinch of salt, and pinch of sugar. Caramelize onions, stirring frequently, until golden and soft, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the stemmed tops off of peppers and scoop out seeds, being careful not to rip the sides of the peppers. When onions are finished, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the pan and add them to the cheese and sausage mixture. Stir mixture well. Use a small spoon to fully stuff each pepper with the cheese mixture. Set 2-3 peppers in each well of the muffin tin so that they're leaning against each other and standing upright (this is just to prevent spillage during cooking). Bake peppers for 15 minutes until slightly soft. Remove from the oven and let the peppers cool for 10 minutes before eating. Sprinkle with a little bit of flaky sea salt, or some extra chopped basil if you'd like, before serving.

*cooking note: if you don't have a muffin tin, a regular sheet pan will do the trick. The muffin pan just keeps the peppers upright and therefore less prone to melty spillage.

PS: other bound-to-be-eaten-first appetizers: meatball sub crostini and cherry tomato and creamed feta crostini