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.