Tuesday, January 1, 2008

January 1: Pasta With Sausage and Peppers

When my husband, Dan, and I were first dating, we used to go to the local farmer's market on Saturday mornings. We are both food nerds, and the farmer's market was full of good inspiration. Plus, we worked together, and we were never sure if we'd get fired for dating, so a date in a place where we weren't likely to run into anyone who knew us, except possibly my mother, was a good thing.

There was a guy there who used to run an Italian sausage sandwich stand. It was a little heavy-duty for breakfast, but I am not really a breakfast person, and heavy-duty for breakfast, to me, just means salad for lunch. There was some connection to the swarthy, mustachioed guy who ran it and my parents--I think that they had been friends with his parents--but his sandwiches were just amazing. He had hot or mild sausages, and I always ordered mine smothered in grilled onions and peppers, with a smear of dark mustard on the Italian bread.

Dan has problems with bell peppers--he likes them, but they don't like him. And anytime he gets some by accident, we both suffer; Dan from indigestion and me from the green cloud that lingers over our bed all night. I modify this meal slightly for him and leave out the peppers, but the beauty of this dish is that you can leave out or throw in almost anything you like. I've put in some sliced mushrooms that needed to be used up, I've omitted the tomatoes or replaced the canned ones with fresh ones in the summer. However you do it, this is a quick, uncomplicated meal of big flavors and, if you can control yourself, fabulous leftovers. It always reminds me of the first summer that Dan and I were together and the sandwiches from Papa's Italian Sausage.

Serve it with a simple green salad and a loaf of crusty bread. Serves 4.

Pasta With Sausage and Peppers

1 1/2-2 pounds of Italian Sausage Links--hot, sweet, or a combination
2 bell peppers of whatever color looks good in your market, cut into 1/2 inch strips
1 red onion, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick lengthwise
2 tsp. balsalmic vinegar
1 can Muir Glen organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
Pinch of dried red chile
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmagiano-reggiano or romano cheese
1 pound dried pasta--a short hollow shape is good, like rigatoni or penne, cooked according to package directions, drained, and kept hot

Prick the sausage links all over with the tip of a short knife. In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook the sausages in enough water to come about 1/3 of the way up the sides of the sausages, turning frequently. The water will evaporate and the fat will render; when the water is gone, lower the heat to medium. Remove the sausages from the pan and set aside. Drain all but 1/2 tablespoon of fat from the pan and discard.

Saute the peppers and onions with salt and pepper to taste in the reserved rendered sausage fat until lightly browned and softened, about three minutes. Add the oregano, crushed red pepper, and balsalmic vinegar, then add the tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes.

While it simmers, slice the sausages 1/3-1/2 inch thick. Slide back into the tomato sauce and simmer another two or three minutes, or until sausage is re-heated. Toss in pasta and transfer to a heated pasta bowl and serve immediately, with cheese to sprinkle over.

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