Growing up in New York in an Italian family, I’ve had my fair share of good, homestyle, Italian food. There were frequent big, extended family get-togethers, where the ‘price of admission’ for a family was food… every Italian mother had her specialty. Zia Lucilla’s was sausages with onions and peppers.
Now this dish is, by no means, unique to Zia Lucilla. It can be found as a side dish at every Italian family get-together, and on the buffet line at every Italian wedding, christening, and birthday party. It’s also a popular vendor push-cart offering on the streets of New York City. I had it a zillion times. But never, ever was it as good as Zia Lucilla’s.
When asked what her secret was, she shrugged and made it clear she wasn’t giving that away. Zio Giovanni, however, was more forthcoming. He always told us “She buys the sausage at Canzona’s Market… it’s the only place to get sausage.” After trying my hand at it several times, I started believing him. The difference was the quality of the sausage.
Canzona’s Market is in Blauvelt NY, so it’s not an option for me. I tried H-E-B Italian sausage. Once. That didn’t do it. Then I tried Central Market’s Italian sausage, and was stunned to discover that a large grocery store in San Antonio Texas made Italian sausage that rivaled that of a good New York Italian deli.
Central Market’s Italian sausage is now a regular purchase, and goes into all kinds of dishes I make. It comes in two varieties: hot and mild. And each is sold in bulk or in links. For the sausages with onions and peppers dish that follows, you need to buy the links. And regarding hot or mild… that’s up to you. Either works.
Sausages with Onions and Peppers Open-Face Sandwiches
This recipe serves 2. Scale up if needed.
2 Central Market Italian sausage links (hot or mild)
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
1 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
¼ cup good quality olive oil
3 tablespoons of butter
Salt & pepper to taste
2 thick slices of dense hearty bread*
Regarding the bread: Back on the streets of New York City, you're going to get sausage and peppers in a bun (at least that's how it worked when I was living there). Today, I prefer it served open-face on a piece of bread that's hearty enough not to get soggy and break apart when piled with sauteed peppers and onions.
Two notes about mustard: First, this isn’t a typical ingredient in an Italian dish. Jim and I discovered, however, that it's a great addition to this dish. Second, Jim and I have different preferences regarding what mustard to use on these sandwiches. My favorite is H-E-B Organics Whole Grain Mustard. Jim prefers Mustard Girl Stoneground Deli.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place a baking sheet in the oven while it’s preheating.
Score sausage links in 2 or 3 places on both sides.
When oven is preheated, spray pan with oil and place sausage links in pan. Cook for 10 minutes, flip sausages and cook for 10 minutes more.
While sausage is cooking, sauté sliced red peppers and onions in a mixture of olive oil and butter. A few minutes before they are done, add the minced garlic.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Sauté until very soft and onions are starting to brown.
Toast the bread if that’s your preference
Spread a thin layer of mustard on each slice of bread.
When sausages are done, split each one in half, length-wise.
Place a sausage on each slice of bread and pile on sautéed onions and peppers.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.