"How to Stuff a Pepper" by Nancy Willard + Poblano Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese | Eat This Poem

When I was newly married, my husband worked as a retail manager. It was a short-lived period of our life that often left me alone for dinner while he worked through the evening rush. 

One night, I made stuffed peppers. They were red, brimming with couscous and herbs, probably topped with gooey cheese. I thought nothing of it, but Andrew came home from work that night and said "You made stuffed peppers? Without me?!" At the time, stuffed peppers seemed like quite an occasion. Jokingly, he made me promise I wouldn't make stuffed peppers again unless we were both present to enjoy the meal. Reading this poem by Nancy Willard, I couldn't help but smile and remember fondly those early years of marriage, especially in light of the eight year (!) anniversary we celebrated last week. 

How to Stuff a Pepper

by Nancy Willard

Now, said the cook, I will teach you
how to stuff a pepper with rice.

Take your pepper green and gently,
for peppers are shy.  No matter which side
you approach, it's always the backside.
Perched on green buttocks, the pepper sleeps.
In its silk tights, it dreams
of somersaults and parsley,
of the days when the sexes were one.

Slash open the sleeve
as if you were cutting a paper lantern,
and enter a moon, spilled like a melon,
a fever of pearls,
a conversation of glaciers.
It is a temple built to the worship
of morning light.

I have sat under the great globe
of seeds on the roof of that chamber,
too dazzled to gather the taste I came for.
I have taken the pepper in hand,
smooth and blind, a runt in the rich
evolution of roses and ferns.
You say I have not yet taught you

to stuff a pepper?
Cooking takes time.

Next time we'll consider the rice.

Used by permission of Nancy Willard in care of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc ( @ 1974 by Nancy Willard. Find Nancy Willard online at

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese | Eat This Poem
Stuffed Peppers with Goat Cheese

To cook, one must learn by doing. You can view television shows, read cookbooks, and even watch your parents or grandparents over the stove, but eventually you must roll up your sleeves and follow a recipe yourself, and today's poem offers instructions to both novice and seasoned cooks. 

In the first lines, the speaker confidently remarks that readers will learn to stuff peppers. Soon we are taught to "slash open the sleeve/ as if you were cutting a paper lantern," and coax an inherent shyness out of peppers during the cooking process. But three stanzas later, we are still talking about peppers and are promised that next time, "we'll consider the rice." 

If you feel a sense of disappointment, don't, because there is a great lesson here. Cooking, like all ventures in life worth doing well, takes time, and going off course is part of the process. It's like talking with a good friend. You sit down, intent to discuss a series of mundane and not so mundane topics, when you find yourself lost on a tangent that lasts an hour. By then your tea is cold, the afternoon has disappeared, and the only option that remains is to scribble another meeting in your calendar to pick up where you left off.

Cooking is not about the peppers, ingredients, or recipe instructions, but the discoveries we make during the process. We are nourished by knife cuts, smells of the season, and family and friends coming alongside us in the kitchen. Our best cooking happens just as Willard's poem unfolds, by beginning with a single task, then losing ourselves in a trance of memory when we realize the vegetable we hold in our hand "is a temple built to the worship/ of morning light." 

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese | Eat This Poem

Stuffed Poblanos with Goat Cheese

They're not terribly photogenic, but what the peppers lack in beauty, they make up for in satisfaction. I took a Tex-Mex approach with these peppers. The cumin-laced sauce plays nicely against tangy goat cheese, and a hearty filling of beans and whole grains makes this a wonderful vegetarian main course. 

For the peppers

4 poblano peppers
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 can pinto beans or black beans
1/4 cup lightly packed cilantro
4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, divided
Salt and freshly cracked pepper

For the sauce

1 28 oz. can tomatoes
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Over a gas flame, roast the peppers for about 2 minutes per side, turning with tongs, until the skin is blistered and browned. Place in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them sit for 15 minutes, then gently rub off the skin as best you can. Carefully slice off the stems, remove the seeds, and slice in half lengthwise.

Add the sauce ingredients to a sturdy blender and blend until smooth; pour into an 8x13-inch baking dish. (If you'd like a bit more heat, add a pinch of cayenne pepper!)

Add the quinoa, beans, cilantro, goat cheese, 1/4 cup monterey jack, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a medium bowl. This is the messiest part, but the most fun. Really use your hands to mush up the thick filling. Then use one hand to cradle a loose pepper skin while you dollop some filling (about 1/4 cup) on top, mounding it until firm; repeat with all the peppers and gently place them into the sauce. 

Once the peppers are snuggled in, top with remaining 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce has reduced slightly.

New York Times Haiku + Pepperonata and Goat Cheese Crostini


Earlier this year, The New York Times launched a haiku project. Have you seen it? Bravo to the computer coders who created an algorithm that scans the home page for phrases with 17 syllables, then uploads them to a Tumblr feed. The result is a playful take on the news that I've very much enjoyed browsing through.  

Several food haiku's have emerged, so naturally, I've been itching to feature one here. Last month, one of my very favorite food blogs, Rachel Eats, posted about pepperonata, a combination of peppers, onions, and tomatoes cooked until a rich and sweet sauce is created.

"There is a moment of stove top alchemy when you make peperonata. It’s when – having softened the sliced onion in butter and oil – you add the sliced red peppers and cover the pan. In just a matter of minutes the crisp, taut slices of pepper surrender their abundant juices and then proceed swim and soften in their own juices: a deep pool of cardinal red stock." -Rachel Roddy


I couldn't wait to make it, but there were still another five days until I could walk to the market, basket in hand, and gather my provisions. It was agony. 

The timing couldn't have been better, though, because this is how I like to eat this time of year. A platter of a few things set out before the sun goes down, a glass of rose nearby, perhaps some music playing. Just lingering. Nibbling on a bite of prosciutto or melon before walking back into the kitchen to give something a stir. 

Now that Sunday's meal was settled, I revisited my list of favorite haiku's, and the one below caught my eye. It's pulled from a recipe for mushroom bruschetta, lovely in its own right, but with pepperonata fresh in my mind, it paired perfectly.  

onion haiku.gif

Pepperonata and Goat Cheese Crostini

Last month I waited every so patiently for Sunday when I could go to the market and scoop up the peppers and tomatoes I needed for this dish. (I also picked up a silky, local goat cheese. The mild tang paired beautifully with the sweetness of the vegetables.

Tomatoes! They're finally here, and for their 2013 debut in my kitchen, I'd say we're off to a wonderful season. This recipe lends itself to a variety of adaptations, like using the pepperonata to top a pizza, or as a spread for a roast beef sandwich.

Adapted every so slightly from Rachel Eats

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small brown onion, sliced
4 large red peppers, seeded and ribs removed, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 a baguette, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2-4 ounces goat cheese

Heat the oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Give it a stir and season with a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onions have softened. Add the peppers, another pinch of salt, and cook for 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until the peppers and onions are exceedingly tender and have started to melt into the rich tomato sauce. You'll know when it's done. The pepperonata will be deep red and glossy, and the tomato skins will collapse at the touch of a wooden spoon.

While the pepperonata cools, prepare the crostini. Heat an oven to 450 degrees and assemble the bread on a sheet pan. Drizzle with some olive oil, then bake for 8-10 minutes, or until crisp and the edges are brown.

Serve pepperonata alongside the crostini and soft goat cheese. 


"Tree" by Jane Hirshfield + Roasted Pepper and Lentil Soup

The California coastline is a long stretch of cliffs jutting down to the sea, but depending on exactly where you are in the state, the landscape can be quite different. Southern California is calmer, I think. Lighter blues, softer sand, golden rocks. Palm trees and eucalyptus trees bend over the edge, close enough to feel the mist of the sea. Once you climb north, the sea turns a deeper blue. The water is rockier, the waves rougher, the landscape more rugged and unforgiving. It's beautiful, wherever you are, but Jane Hirshfield, who wrote the poem I'm sharing today, is writing from the north.

Jane Hirshfield is one of my favorite contemporary poets. She is a master of illuminating the quiet places and finding meanings in the simple gestures of our daily life. Her poems are often greatly profound and spiritual, reminding us of connections beyond our physical bodies. I find myself returning to her poems often, never tiring of their beauty and insight.