Growing up, my oldest brother was good at baseball, my middle brother was good at math, and I was good at Italian sausage.
I was eating it at two years old, making it in my parent’s basement at five, and serving it to hungry fans at baseball games at 10. (My dad was a coach and an attorney, so I wasn’t too worried about child labor laws.)
I grew up in Italian-centric Rhode Island, where “sausage” meant sweet or hot Italian sausage. It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina as an adult that I realized for most people outside of RI, “sausage” meant Jimmy Deen.
Though we ate Italian sausage year-round, it never tasted better than during summertime. After little league baseball games when most kids went out for ice cream or pizza, we went home to the aroma of my mom’s glistening Italian sausage patties grilling on our back patio.
At Italian summer street festivals, if I had a choice between eating an Italian sausage calzone or riding the tilt-a-whirl one more time, I chose the sausage calzone.
While most fans went to Fenway Park in the hopes of seeing Jim Rice hit a home run, we went for the overstuffed sausage and peppers sandwiches, or as we called them, “soss-age n’ peppiz.”
A modest Italian street food, a sausage and pepper sandwich is a Neapolitan specialty that was introduced to America by Italian immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century. In many Italian-American families, it’s as ubiquitous as peanut butter and jelly but a whole lot more filling.
Sausage and pepper sandwiches are always found where people are having fun — at baseball concessions, fairs, and street festivals. They should also be at your backyard cookouts. So here’s my recipe for truly great Sausage and Pepper Sandwiches from my cookbook, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches.
Now, let’s mangia!
Sausage and Pepper Sandwich from The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches
Shopping note: Hot Italian sausage is made with fennel seed and other spices and can be found at Italian delis and markets as well as most major supermarkets. If you’d prefer something less spicy, then opt for sweet Italian sausage.
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 Italian links (about 1 1/4 pounds total), preferably hot Italians sausage with fennel seeds
1 small green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 to 4 tablespoons red wine or water
4 sub rolls or crusty Italian rolls, split lengthwise
1. Place oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage links and cook, turning until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Ad bell peppers, onion, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to medium-low and saute, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add wine or water and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 2 to 3 minutes. The meat should be thoroughly cooked and the vegetables tender.
2. Brush rolls with olive oil and broil 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden and crisp.
3. Open 1 roll. Place 1 sausage link firmly inside. Smother with a quarter of the peppers and onions. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. Eat immediately.
Alternative Grilling Method: Pre-heat grill to medium-high. Brown sausage links all over for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and close grill cover. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness until nicely browned and no longer pink in the center or until a meat thermometer reaches 160 degrees.
Photo credit: Matt Armendariz