Thursday, August 22, 2013

Roasted Spicy Sausage and Peppers

When people ask you what's your favorite thing to smell, one of the first things that pop in my mind is Sausage and Peppers.  There isn't anything quite like the yummy smell of spicy savory sausage sizzling away in a vat of bell peppers, onions, garlic and wine.

My Grandma Kay was Croatian but married an Italian man and when he went off to war, she stayed with his very full blooded Italian parents who used to cook peppers all the time because they had a pepper garden in the back yard.  She would tell me stories of how she always had to leave the house and take my dad on long walks for hours just to get away from the smell, "Oh, that smell, that smell, I'll never forget it!".  This story always makes me laugh because I'll never understand what she didn't like about that sweet and peppery scent which to me is one of my favorites and always makes me reminisce about family and dinnertime.  Maybe it's an Italian thing.

What's great about this dish is that you can either make it for two or you can make it for twenty.  This classic Italian comfort food goes a long way but also makes delicious leftover sausage sandwiches the next day.  And the convenient thing about Italian sausage is that is freezes really well.  So, even if you're forced to buy a pound and only need enough for two, you can freeze whatever you don't use and it will keep for a few months.  The key to this recipe is finding great quality authentic fresh Italian sausage.  Please do me a favor, find your favorite Italian deli and buy it from there!  It makes a world of difference!  Trust me on this one.

What you need: serves about 4

1 lb spicy Italian pork sausage (about 5 links)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper (julienned)
1/2 red bell pepper (julienned)
1/2 yellow bell pepper (julienned)
1/2 orange bell pepper (julienned)
1 small yellow onion (julienned)
4 cloves garlic (smashed)
1 cup white wine
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
kosher salt and crushed black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage for about 5 mins each side.  This not only makes the sausage look more appetizing to eat but it gives the casing a nice crunch.  In a large baking dish or pan start lining in the seared sausage about an inch apart.  Toss in the rest of the ingredients but try not to cover the tops of the sausage.  Because we are baking the sausage in wine, we want to let them breath as much as possible instead of fully steaming them.  Otherwise, they'll lose the crunch that you previously gave them!  And don't worry about wasting the other half of the bell peppers.  There is always pizza making night during the week, right?  Or you could easily just pick your two favorite bell peppers and use the whole thing.  I like color, so I used all four halves.  :)

Bake for about 45 mins or when the peppers have soften and the sausage is fully cooked.  Serve hot or in a roll for an Italian Sausage Sangwich.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tomato Artichoke Tapenade

I may be a bit bias, but Italian restaurants have gotten it right by feeding you immediately with free food, right?  I mean, there is nothing more frustrating than heading out to eat while starving and not being able to get your grub on until a half hour after you've ordered.  It's the same thing when going to a dinner party or coming home from a long day of work... you're hungry and want to eat now!  That's what's so great about Tapenade.  It's a smart and complementary starter to any Italian meal that is easy to make the day before so that you can just pop it out of the fridge the next evening and eat right away while you're eagerly waiting for the main dish.  

Tapenade is usually made of olives, capers and anchovies, but there are a couple of folks in my family who despise olives (I know, maybe they're not real Italians, oh, and I'm kinda one of them...).  So I thought this just as tasty dip could be a good substitute.  Because of the tomatoes, it almost becomes a thick Italian salsa/bruschetta that works great on slices of bread instead of chips.  And without that tangy and salty bite from the capers and anchovies, the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes works as a smart alternative.  A simple but decadent appetizer that will impress all your friends and family your fabulous authentic Italian skills.  :)

What you'll need: serves 4-6

1 heirloom tomato (roughly diced)
2 6 ounce jar quartered artichokes (not canned, drained)
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (if from jar, drained, roughly chopped)
2 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (a tasty substitute for salt)
1 tsp black ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

In a food processor, throw in all the ingredients.  Pulse a couple of times and then blend for a few seconds until everything is finely chopped.  Depending on how chunky you want the paste will determine how long you'll process.  I like mine on the finer side and blended for about 5 seconds.  Chill at least 4 hours or overnight for the flavors to meld together.  Serve on bread or crackers!