Braised Stuffed Peppers and Tomatoes

1 c. golden raisins
4 large on-the-vine tomatoes
4 large Bell peppers, any color
4 Tbsp. Garlic Olive Oil, divided
1 red onion, diced
1 fennel bulb
sea salt and cracked black pepper
1/2 lb. ground beef
2 Tbsp. Cherry Balsamic
1/2 c. uncooked short grain rice
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 c. curly leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 c. wild fennel (top of bulb used above), chopped
1 c. crumbled feta cheese
1/2 c. dry white wine or Apricot White Balsamic (or a mixture of the two)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Carefully slice the tops off the tomatoes and the peppers. Gently cut out, or use a spoon (a grapefruit spoon with the pointy tip works great) to scoop out the seeds and pulp from the tomatoes and set aside. Carefully cut out the membrane of the peppers and remove all seeds. Trim off the top of the fennel. Chop the dill-like fronds and set aside 1/4 cup. Trim the bottom and outer layers of the fennel and dice the bulb.

For the rice, measure 1/2 c. rice, 1/4 c. mint, 1/4 c. parsley into a pot. Measure out your tomato pulp that you had set aside and add water to make 1 1/4. cups. Add to rice mixture and bring to a boil. Then turn down and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

For the meat mixture, heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the onions for 2 - 3 minutes until just translucent. Add the chopped fennel bulb, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and saute' for another 2 - 3 minutes. Add the ground beef breaking it up with your spoon. Cook until ground beef is browned. Add Cherry Balsamic and raisins, sauté until it cooks in and de-glazes the pan, maybe 1 -2 minutes. Add the cooked rice mixture and feta cheese and stir to blend together. Carefully arrange the tomatoes and peppers in a baking dish big enough to hold snugly without crowding. Gently stuff the peppers and tomatoes 3/4 full. Do not overfill as they will burst. Place the tops on each and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Pour Apricot Balsamic into the base of the baking dish around the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bake 20 - 30 minutes until the tomatoes and peppers are tender and the centers are very hot. Serve hot from the oven in shallow bowls. Spoon extra juices over the top just before serving. Serves four.

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