Photograph by Patrick Heagney
The whippoorwill tattooed on Jerry Slater’s left forearm pays tribute to the birds his grandmother admired in the mountains of rural West Virginia where Slater, owner of H. Harper Station, was raised. The images inked on his right wrist represent the two railroads—Penn Central and Conrail—where his grandfather (and his restaurant’s namesake), Harold Harper, worked as an engineer. Meals were simple and substantial, typically revolving around hamburger steak or pinto beans and corn bread, served with vegetables picked from the garden. “My grandmother did most of the cooking since my mother had to work all day,” Slater says. “But Mom had a few specialties of her own.” One of them was stuffed peppers, which she continued to make after she remarried and the family moved to Indiana. Sometimes she’d fill them with a basic ground beef and white rice mixture; other times she’d get fancy with Spanish rice and bacon. Slater loved everything about the dish—except for the pepper itself. “My stepfather and I would always scoop out the insides and leave the peppers on our plates,” he says. Only when he got older and discovered sweeter red and yellow peppers did he start to eat the whole thing.
6 bell peppers (preferably red or yellow)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cups cooked Carolina Gold rice (or another aromatic long-grain variety)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut off the tops of the peppers; discard stems, finely chop the pepper tops, and set aside. Remove the seeds and ribs from inside the peppers. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add peppers and parboil them 2 to 3 minutes, just until they soften. Dry with paper towels and set aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and reserved chopped peppers and saute until tender. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the ground beef, and cook, stirring occasionally, until uniformly browned. Season with parsley, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes longer. Fold in the rice and cook a few minutes longer, until most liquid is absorbed.
3. Divide the mixture evenly among the hollowed peppers. Arrange in a Dutch oven or deep baking dish filled with about half an inch of water. Cover with a lid or several layers of foil and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until peppers are very tender. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
This article originally appeared in our April 2013 issue.