|Sausage and peppers- simple, easy, perfect.|
To make Sausage and Peppers (and if you've got family from Brooklyn, you should pronounce it like "sawww-zeetch") you need three major components- Italian Sausage (sweet, hot, or even both), Sweet Peppers (green, red, etc), and onions (yellow, white, red, etc). Everything is cooked in olive oil, and is typically flavored with garlic, salt, pepper, and possibly some herbs such as parsley, basil, and/or oregano.
So already, just listing the thee main ingredients and the four or five minor ones, we've stumbled into a huge number of possible variations. Most people, I think, prefer sweet sausage- although hot sausage works here as well. It would also be a very Sicilian thing to use sweet sausage with a few hot sausages mixed in as a little surprise. After hitting the hot sausage in the Sunday gravy once as a kid, I started to get very good at telling the difference between hot and sweet sausage on sight... until I became old enough to "get" the Sicilian culinary sense of humor when it comes to spicy things- and even later I would start to seek out the hot stuff.
For the peppers and onions- there are many varieties of each. Some consider one color of peppers more authentic than the other for whatever reason, some insist on using a slightly different pepper such as the pale green cubanelle. Some insist on red onions, or yellow onions, or even sweet vidalia onions. Personally, I think the most authentic way to go is just pick whatever variety of sweet pepper and onion looks the freshest at the market this week. Usually, in most supermarkets in the US, you'll find it's probably the green or red bell peppers. If something else looks better- it's probably a stroke of luck that you got a good shipment, and you should jump on it. Same goes for the onions- although there are so many sources for onions that what looks best at the market is going to vary almost day to day, just trust your instincts and pick something that looks fresh and you'll do fine. The last post where I talked about using bell peppers, the red ones looked good- this week, the green ones won the prize.
I like to get all the flavor I can out of my sausages, so while it may be convenient to cook the sausages on a grill or a broiler while you work on the peppers and onions in a pan, that just misses opportunities to use all the flavor you can. I prefer to cook everything on one (large) pan- the oil I brown the sausage in (and all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan) becomes the oil I cook my onions and peppers in. Then I put the meat and the vegetables together to get acquainted as they finish cooking. Start off with a pan large enough for about 12 sausages. Heat the pan to medium-high heat, and coat the bottom with a liberal amount of oil. When it's hot, and the oil seems to shimmer slightly, start to lay in the sausages- if the first one doesn't start to sizzle as soon as it hits the pan, take it out, and let the pan heat up a little longer.
|Start by browning your sausages in hot oil|
The goal here is to put a brown sear on as much of the sausages' surface as possible. If you don't have a huge pan, you'll want to work in batches to keep the pan from getting too crowded. Either way, you'll need 3-5 minutes per side. By the time you get all sides of the sausages done, they should be cooked all the way through- or at least close to being cooked through- we'll finish them a little later so we don't really need to check yet.
|A nice dark-brown sear is the key to great sausage and peppers|
This sear is the key to making everything come together. The sear adds flavor and a little snap to the sausage casing, and it leaves those dark bits stuck to the pan that will help the sausage flavor permeate the peppers and onions as well. A word to the wise- use a pan with a lid, and keep it covered unless you need to turn the sausages- they can spit and fling hot oil surprising distances! The lid will also help ensure that the sausages get cooked enough by trapping the heat like an oven. Once the sausages are done, take them out of the pan and set them aside. Leave the oil and all those tasty dark bits on the bottom of the pan- we'll use this to cook everything else.
Next, we'll deal with our onions. I'm not too particular about how they're cut, but I think they cook better in larger pieces in this case- so I take 2-3 medium onions, and give them a rough chop. After cutting the onions in half and peeling, I'll trim both ends, then cut it into chunks end to end, rather than cross-wise like you would do if you wanted thin half-moons. The larger cut is a little more forgiving, and less likely to overcook or burn if your kids decided to run amok with permanent markers as you're putting your onions on the heat.
|Rough chopped onions|
|When you clean peppers- start at the top|
|Peppers, cut in half, cleaned, then chopped into strips.|
|Onions sauteed with salt and pepper|
|Add a little garlic to our onions.|
|Adding peppers to the onions with some basil and parsley|
|Let the sausages get to know the peppers and onions for a while|
|Sausage and Peppers served in the traditional way- on a roll.|
The best part about sausage and peppers is the leftovers. It reheats well, and a night in the refrigerator actually lets everything meld together even more than it already has. You can make another sandwich out of the leftovers, or you can get a little creative- slice up the sausage, and toss it with the peppers and onions and some pasta. The leftovers also make a great pizza topping. Ages ago, my mother would use the peppers and onions (with or without the sausage) and some leftover potato to make breakfast- peppers and eggs. She'd warm up the leftover sausage and peppers in a pan with chunks of leftover potato, then cover the whole thing with scrambled eggs. I haven't had peppers and eggs in a long time, so right now, I'm wondering if I'll have enough time to do ti before I have to leave for work in the morning.
I'm sure that just about any Italian American can understand how I feel about this simple, unassuming dish. They probably have their own opinion about how to make it, and their method will probably be very different from mine- and that's the way it should be. Those simple dishes that have countless variations are usually the recipes that we take the most personally.