Tue Dec 30, 2014
There's hardly a party food better than bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeños—well they don't beat wings, but they are a close second. Whenever I'm playing host, stuffed jalapeños are undoubtedly going to be going to be making an appearance because I consider them bite-sized perfection. Every once in a while I have a crazy notion that I should try something else, but ultimately never do because as long as I keep going with what I know, there's no room for disappointment.
Many ideas of variations have popped into my head throughout the years, and one kept sticking with me enough that I finally brushed aside my stubbornness and answered the nagging call to take an Italian-influenced detour from the worn road to see if prosciutto-wrapped, ricotta stuffed cherry peppers would be worth a damn.
One thing that makes jalapeño poppers so enticing is that they deliver so much flavor with so few ingredients—peppers, cream cheese, and bacon are all you really need. I wanted to make these stuffed peppers almost as simple, while delivering just as much, if not more, flavor.
I began with my pepper choice, turning to hot cherry peppers—a variety that follows in the tradition of the jalapeño with a nice fruity flavor and a manageable amount of heat. I was a bit worried they'd be more difficult to prepare, but once I got them home and stemmed them, I was relieved to find that it was perfectly easy to scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon.
In stuffed jalapeños, the cream cheese is transformative, delivering a smooth texture and tangy flavor that tempers the pepper's heat. But it's just as crucial that it holds its consistency when heated on the grill. Having never put a soft Italian cheese in that same type of environment, I picked up both mascarpone and ricotta to see which would best withstand high temperatures.
Before I got started, though, I wanted to amp up the the flavor in both cheeses. To counteract their mildness and add a little more depth to the filling, I combined them with sharp provolone and a touch of basil for good measure. Then I stuffed each pepper with the cheese mixtures, dividing them equally between the mascarpone and ricotta variations.
The bacon replacement was also a no-brainer—prosciutto would provide an appropriate but distinct pork flavor while retaining the saltiness traditionally imparted by bacon. After wrapping the first pepper, I was pleased to find out that the thin slice of porcine excellence clung to the fruit so well that no additional securing via a toothpick—like I usually do with bacon—was needed.
Once they were all assembled, I tossed the peppers onto the grill and cooked them over indirect medium-high heat until the prosciutto had darkened and crisped in areas and the peppers were slightly softened.
As I went to retrieve the poppers, immediately I saw the mascarpone hadn't fared well. The the fat in the cheese had separated and the filling had spilled over, leaving behind a greasy looking mess. The ricotta, other other hand, had done well—not only did it maintain its form and texture, but it tasted better, too.
The ricotta itself mostly added volume and texture; it was the provolone that really shined in the flavor department, lending a light, sharp bite to the poppers. It was a simple but effective filling that tempered the heat of the peppers, making them taste more fruity than hot. The prosciutto did its job in lending a meaty heft with a nice salty touch. All-in-all, they were a pretty damn good stuffed pepper, albeit the Italian spin left them more delicate and subdued in flavor compared to the bacon-wrapped jalapeños. Even though that'll leave me sticking to my tried-and-true jalapeños for most occasions, I have to say these cherry peppers had a touch of class that has a lot of potential to impress.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Stuffed Cherry Peppers
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Cook Time:
- 30 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 50 Minutes
- 20 peppers
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated provolone cheese
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 20 hot cherry peppers, stemmed and seeded
- 1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
- In a medium bowl, mix together ricotta, provolone, and basil.
- Stuff each pepper with cheese mixture. Wrap each stuffed pepper with one slice of prosciutto.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Place wood chunk directly on coals. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place stuffed peppers on cool side of grill, cover, and cook until prosciutto has browned and pepper has softened slightly, 20-30 minutes. Transfer peppers to serving tray, let cool for 5 minutes, then serve.