Cleaning out the fridge, Italian style…

Buying groceries once a week is a pain! Going to the store, finding a parking spot, figuring out what you plan on eating for the next few days, sneaking gummy bears out of the bulk bin without getting caught, (don’t look at me like that, I know you’ve done it too). And, you’re usually hungry, so you wind up with a cart full of potato chips, ice cream, and maaaybe some vegetables, fruits, and stuff you actually need. After the interminable wait in line, (“No, I didn’t bring my stupid points card! Why? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why!”), you get home and lug ten bags of groceries up three flights of stairs, because you’re not making two trips dammit! By now, you’re so tired and hungry, you really might as well order a pizza, and get some sweet, sweet instant gratification. Rinse and repeat every week. And, at some point, you wind up with some sad, leftover vegetables, and herbs going to seed in the bottom of the fridge. Sad!

Part of the small kitchen lifestyle is about trying to change how we buy groceries, by making smaller purchases more frequently. By going to the store 3-4 times a week, but only buying a few items, we spend less time purchasing groceries overall. We accumulate less food, stay flexible with our food budget, and thus reduce our food waste. Save money, time, and reduce your guilt. What could be better?

It’s also about transforming what is at hand into amazing, vibrant dishes, without resorting to chucking everything into a casserole dish or soup pot. (Does anyone else remember the horrors of leftovers casserole night? No? I envy you.)

I’ve loved Italian food since I was a small boy, and I had my first horrid can of Chef-Boyardee. I’ve managed to expand my horizons a bit since then, and added a few more dishes to my repertoire. One of my favourite meals to make is sausage and peppers. It’s tasty, simple, and it’s a great way to use up older tomatoes, or peppers. Just remember to wear a bib while you’re making it, there will be Homer Simpson levels of drooling involved.

                     Sausage and Peppers

(Prep time: 10 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes. Serves 3-4)

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb fresh Italian sausage, sans casing*
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin radially
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, diced
  • 1 large green pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 large sweet red peppers, sliced into strips
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped 
  • 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 small bay leaves

*So, I get it. You’re a vegetarian, or have an aversion to sausage. And here I am, about to drop a great recipe on you, but you can’t have it because it’s got meat. Well you can stop calling me a son-of-a-bitch, and stabbing little effigies of me, ’cause I’ve got you covered. Sub in 2 blocks of firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes; as well as 1 cup of finely chopped portabella mushrooms. Toss them in a bowl and season with a tsp of paprika, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, 1/2 tsp of black pepper, 1/2 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavours to meld, then fry the mixture as you would the sausage. Sub in veggie broth or water for the chicken broth. Or you can use a good quality meatless sausage substitute if you’re so inclined. There, crisis averted; and all the little herbivores are happy!*

Over medium heat, cook the sausage in the oil until it just begins to brown. Add the onion and garlic, and continue to fry the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown slightly. Do not let the garlic burn! It will become very bitter and unpleasant, like that ex you borrowed money from, and never payed back. (Is that only me? Oh, okay… Moving on then.)

At this point, you can add the peppers, tomatoes, and salt, and continue cooking everything over medium heat until the peppers begin to soften slightly. Now add the sugar, balsamic vinegar, and all the rest of the ingredients. Give everything in the pan a big old stir, slap a lid on the pan, and let your sausage and peppers stew over medium heat for 15 minutes. (You might want to take this opportunity to change your now saliva-soaked bib, and maybe mop up any puddles of drool on the floor.)

After 15 minutes, take the lid off and give the mixture a stir. Breathe in the fragrant steam, and let your eyeballs roll back into your head with orgiastic pleasure. (Dammit, I need a new bib!)

Bib swapped, simmer your sausage and peppers with the lid off for 10 more minutes, until the sauce has thickened and reduced. Have a taste of the sauce, and adjust the seasoning if needed.

The best part about this dish is how versatile it is. Spoon the filling into a crusty bun with some provolone cheese, and you’ve got a great sandwich. Toss with your favourite pasta, or serve over risotto. Myself, I like to pan fry polenta with a little olive oil, spoon the sausage and peppers over the warm, slightly crispy, polenta cakes, and top everything with a bunch of freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. It’s like a hug from an Italian grandma; without the remonstrations about you not being married, having any kids, or going to church! And remember, you can enjoy your meal without any self-reproach! It’s too bad that, thanks to Nonna, you’ll never be completely guilt-free.


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