Before I get into the “meat” of this post (har har), I just wanted to mention that I have noticed a number of you have arrived at the site by googling “noelle blog”, or “simmer down blog”, etc. May I suggest an email subscription? (Look to the right side of the page…) You’ll get a notification in your inbox whenever there’s a new post. Or, if you prefer, just bookmark me!
Ok, on to the recipe…
As I mentioned in my chorizo chili post, I bought a rather large amount of sausage on sale a couple months ago which is now hanging out in my freezer. The other morning I was rummaging around trying to figure out something easy for dinner. Being low on groceries and not wanting to spend much time at the store after work, I decided to make a quick pasta sauce with some of the sweet italian sausage I had bought. I already had canned tomatoes and onions at home, so I just grabbed a green pepper, some salad and bread (and wine of course), and I was good to go. Normally I don’t love green pepper in pasta sauce, but here I was thinking of the sausages you get at a street fair, with the sautéed peppers and onions heaped on top, and wanted to echo those flavors. I ended up with a robust sauce that took under an hour to make, including prep time.
Italian Sausage & Pepper Pasta Sauce
about 1/2 pound (2 links) sweet (mild) italian sausage, preferably from the meat counter
a couple tbs olive oil
1 small green bell pepper (or about half of a large one)
1 small red onion (or half, if you have a big one)
1 small yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/3 to 1/2 cup red wine
1 28-oz can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes (see note)
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, bruised or crushed in a mortar & pestle
crushed red pepper, optional
First, prep the veggies: Cut off the ends off the onions, then cut them in half vertically (i.e. from end to end). Put the halves flat side down and cut into medium-thin vertical slices (again, from end to end). I like cutting them this way because they hold their shape better and don’t get the “wormy” appearance that they do when you cut them horizontally. If your onions are larger, you may want to halve some of the longer pieces. Smash and mince the garlic; cut the green pepper into thin vertical strips (again, cut them in half if they seem too long). Pour yourself a glass of the wine, if you haven’t already done so. If you want to save a couple minutes, you can slice the onions & garlic as the meat is cooking, and the peppers as the onion is cooking.
Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat (I use cast-iron). When the pan is hot, squeeze the sausage out of its casing and fry it, breaking it apart with a spatula into small pieces. When it looks mostly cooked but still a little pink, add the onions and increase the heat to medium high. Stir-fry the meat and onions until the onions begin to brown. Keep the wine handy and if anything starts to stick or become too browned, add a small splash of wine to deglaze the pan. About 7 minutes after adding the onion, add the garlic and peppers. Continue stir-frying until the peppers are just starting to become tender. Your meat and onions should be getting deeply browned at this point. Keep adding splashes of wine as the meat and onions caramelize, and make sure to scrape all the browned bits at the bottom of the pan as you do so. This technique allows the development of deep flavors without having to simmer your sauce for hours!
After you add your peppers, put some well-salted water on to boil for your pasta ( I like to use penne or linguine). When your peppers start to soften, add the can of tomatoes and reduce the heat to a simmer. Crush the fennel seeds and add them to the sauce. (If you don’t have a mortar & pestle, you can put them on a cutting board and “mince” them with a big chopping knife.) If you like a little heat, add a small amount of crushed red pepper. The sauce will be ready to eat by the time your pasta is cooked. Makes enough to sauce 1 lb pasta.
Note: If your tomatoes aren’t pre-seasoned, add a little oregano and basil, as well as salt to tast. I did not need any additional salt in my sauce because the meat and tomatoes were already salted enough.
Variation: Tomato-less Italian Sausage & Peppers “Sauce”
Instead of adding tomatoes, pile your sausage and pepper mixture on top of spaghetti or linguine noodles and add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Top with red pepper flakes and grated parmesan.
Inspiration can strike at odd times, and this is a perfect example: I get home the other night from the bar, a little hungry, but there’s nothing ready-made in the fridge. I’m staring down a link of chorizo that I bought at Holiday Market’s Sausage Fest a few weeks ago (stay tuned for more sausage-related recipes; I have a whole freezerful!) and figured out that I could make a really easy chili with that and a few pantry items.
I’m not really a fan of ground beef in chili- I like to use steak or venison or chorizo. The great thing about chorizo is that it has a lot of flavor in it already, so for this quick chili it was perfect… keeping the ingredient list short. The only work I did besides opening cans was chopping the onion and chipotles. In my opinion, the final product tasted just as good as a chili that had simmered for hours (or maybe that was just my late-night taste buds being indiscriminate)!
Smoky Chorizo Chili
1 link chorizo sausage (about 3/4 to 1 lb)
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic (optional depending on how lazy you want to be- your chorizo should have some garlic flavor already)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can black beans or pinto beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels or small can of corn, drained
1 7-oz can chipotles in adobo
Directions: Squeeze the chorizo out of its casing and fry in a large heavy skillet (I like cast-iron) over medium heat, breaking up the chunks as it cooks. Meanwhile, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add these to the chorizo, frying and stirring until the onions soften. While those are cooking, rinse and drain the beans, open the tomatoes. Remove the chipotles from their sauce and chop them up*. By this time, the onions should be cooked. Dump the beans, tomatoes, corn and chipotles into the pan and let everything simmer for 5-10 minutes to heat through. I ate this plain with corn chips, but a dollop of sour cream or even yogurt is always nice with chili and helps cool the spiciness. Plantain chips are a nice change of pace for a garnish as well. You can salt to taste if needed, but if your tomatoes are salted you probably won’t find it necessary.
*For the chipotles in adobo, you have some options. If you want it quite spicy, you can just use the whole can, sauce and all (chop up the chilies first though). I deseeded the chiles prior to chopping them, and froze the remaining adobo sauce for a future use. I’d say the result was “medium” heat. If you wanted it less spicy, just use a couple chiles instead of the whole can, and freeze the remainder.