The first time I had this classic Italian-American delight was in New York at the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Little Italy. It was a savory revelation, an umami bomb inside some awesome hot toasted and buttered buns. I was hooked for life.
One of the secrets of this Italian sausage is the fennel seeds inside, a hint of orange or lemon peel, and the chewy coarseness of the chunky ground meats. And everything, including the onions and bell peppers, are charred with hot aromatic olive oil and garlic. Comfort food for the lovers of feasts from the rustic past, and wonderfully addictive.
2 pounds high quality Italian sausages, pork, chicken or turkey, mild or spicy, making sure that there is fennel seed inside the sausage (the sausages can be simmered whole and/or cut into generous 1 inch chunks… we often do both in the same meal)
2 red bell peppers, sliced 3/4 inch across
2 yellow bell peppers, sliced 3/4 inch across
2 large sweet onions, sliced 3/4 inch across
14 ounces whole canned tomatoes (we use half of a 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes and juice from Italy, usually Italbrand, about 10 tomatoes)
4 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (we use either raw unfiltered cider from Bragg or Sarson’s malt vinegar from England, both are wonderful)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup Italian parsley, packed tightly
2 teaspoons dried oregano or 3 tablespoons fresh
1 tablespoon fennel seed, ground (only necessary if the sausages don’t contain this evocative and authentic flavor inside them)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 slices of smoked Provolone cheese (for the buns, if you are making hoagies)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 toasted buns for the hoagies, or 1/2 pound prepared spaghetti
Slice the onions and peppers and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, (crushed fennel seed if necessary), garlic and oregano. Stir well until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
In a 12 to 14 inch cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil until fragrant and hot. On medium-high heat, saute’ the peppers and onions, stirring often, until both are slightly charred and the onion is slightly opaque, about 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato juice, and tomato paste… along with the small bowl containing the salt, black pepper, oregano, (fennel seed if necessary), garlic, vinegar and brown sugar.
Make room in the peppers and onions for the sausages, which should be on the bottom of the skillet, with pepper and onions above. With the cover on but slightly ajar, simmer on low/medium for about 10 minutes. Turn the sausages, (they should be slightly seared by now), add the parsley and parmesan cheese, simmer for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat to low.
Using tongs, lift the sausages out (either whole or cut into 1 inch pieces) and place them on a hot grill, cast iron pan or open flame from a BBQ and sear until charred, about 4 minutes. Place them back with the peppers and onions and either serve with toasted buns and melted cheese, or serve the sausages which were cut into 1 inch chunks, along with crusty bread or pasta, on the side. Mangiamo!