Some days, I feel so proud of my 50% Italian heritage. This was not so when I was a child. Growing up in New York City, one would think that, surrounded by other Italian-Americans, I’d feel secure in my ethnically obvious maiden name, and in the fact that mom would pack lunches of leftover something-parmigiana on thick, crusty Italian breads. I’d open my sandwich, and my Irish-American friends would immediately hold their noses at the aroma of garlic and “gravy.” I’d covet my friend Jeannie’s Taylor Ham sandwich on Wonder Bread with yellow mustard. Sometimes, if she was feeling adventurous, she’d trade me half of her “normal American sandwich.”
My Italian-immigrant grandfather did the grocery shopping, and he refused to buy peanut butter or baloney because that was what the “poor people” ate. “And what do the Irish know about good food?” he would snap, insulted by my ungrateful attitude. My grandfather would then drag me along on his Saturday mornings in search of “good food;” meat from “the butchers” in the Bronx, breads from the bakery owned by his friend, “The Greek,” and crates of fresh vegetables and fruits from the city market stalls that would send my grandmother into fits of cursing in Italian and English; “You buy too much!”
Not everything about being so obviously Italian-American was negative. In fact, not only did we raise lettuce, greens, onions, leeks, parsley, basil, plum tomatoes (canned by my bilingually cursing grandma every summer because Gramps grew so many), peaches, and pears, we also had flowerbeds of hybrids that the botanical gardens down the street found hard to match, with thick green lawns that we children loved to roll around in and spread picnic blankets on hot summer days.
Another treat in the Spring and Summer was to attend the church festivals. These fundraisers still exist today. In fact, in my new Florida home, our Catholic Church serves some of the same delicious feast foods as those served at the festivals of my New York City childhood. However, my favorite food memories — it’s true that smell is our oldest-lasting memory — are those of the church feasts in Greenwich Village. “Sausage and Peppers” meant Italian flavored sausages with fennel, grilled to a crisp on sizzling flat tops, much like what the walk-up vendors also sold along the Village streets. Mountains of sliced green bell peppers and onions sautéed off to one corner, juices flowing onto the cook top to further flavor the sausages.
“Sausage and Peppers” also meant they were served using long spatulas to slide the sausages onto a warm, crisp Italian hoagie and then piled with the peppers and onions. Some added mustard, but I was a purest. Usually, my sister and I shared one, but the grownups daringly slurped, munched, and chewed entire sandwiches while we stood in the middle of the closed-off city street, juices running down arms as crowds jostled.
What makes me proud this day is that, to the amazement of most of my Florida friends of varying ethnic backgrounds and state origins, I can whip up almost anything Italian without a recipe. Grandma’s methods are either ingrained in my DNA, or the long hours I watched her cook on Saturdays and Sundays became second nature. We are what we know?
Luckily, even though as a child I cringed when opening my lunch bag, today I can create any Italian hoagie, whether it’s “gabbigole-sopressat-mortadel-Genoa-provo,” anything meat/fish/vedge parm, or “sausage and peppers.”
Today, I use red and yellow peppers, not only for bright color, but also for sweeter flavor and less acid. I also slice fresh Vidalia (or sweet) onions, and a couple of good-sized garlic cloves. Because, of course, what two ingredients are necessary to begin almost any authentic Italian recipe (okay, not Tiramisu, although I have been accused)? GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL!
Years ago, I learned these steps that work for me. Maybe you, too, will find them helpful.
1. Even though Vidalia onions are sweet and don’t usually cause eye irritation, I learned to slice off the top of the onion first, and not to remove the root end. This works better than cold running water. Cut off the top, then peel the onion as close as you can to the root end, then slice.
2. To remove the seeds from the peppers in as few steps as possible, hold the pepper on its side, slice off the stem end or top with as little pepper as possible, then stand on its bottom. Using a sharp knife, carefully slice down inside the pepper along the 4-5 veins. You should then be able to lift the seed core straight up and out. You will still have to rinse a few stragglers before you slice, but this makes seeding peppers nearly effortless. You may use whatever color peppers you prefer, and if you like a lot of spice, trying adding a sliced chili or jalapeno.
3. My French mom always added fresh chopped parsley to this dish (as well as to her meatball mixture)
4. I served Qu Cabernet Sauvignon Chile, 2015 from https://www.nakedwines.com. If you prefer more peppery, less fruity try the Arabella 2016 Cab. Because what goes better with this sandwich than a nice red?
¼ c. (yes) EVOO (olive oil)
2 large cloves fresh garlic(or to taste)
6 Italian SAUSAGES (we prefer hot, but you can use sweet, and you can also buy without fennel. I use pork, but it also works with Italian chicken sausage)
1 large Vidalia ONION, peeled and sliced
1 large yellow sweet PEPPER, sliced
1 large red sweet PEPPER, sliced
Dried Italian herbs (if available, use fresh basil, oregano, thyme to taste)
3 crusty Italian hoagie rolls, preferably from a bakery
- Combine sliced peppers and onions in a large bowl and toss together.
- Add olive oil to a deep fry that has a tight-fitting cover. Heat over medium-high heat.
- Sautée sausage, turning to lightly brown skin on all sides.
- Add garlic and toss, stirring to cook the garlic.
- Simply pile your sliced peppers and onions and toss together.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees at this point.
- Cover, lower heat to medium low, and continue to cook for 20-30 minutes, or until sausages are cooked (no longer pink inside), and peppers and onions are tender.
- Split rolls lengthwise, taking care not to cut all the way through.
- (Using a slotted spoon) Fill rolls with 1.5 or 2 sausages. With a sharp knife, carefully split sausages lengthwise, but not all the way through, and top generously with pepper mixture.
- If desired, layer sliced provolone or Muenster cheese across the top, and place in the preheated oven until cheese melts and edges of rolls are toasted.
- Buon appetito!