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Sunday, April 21, 2013

April Come She Will

                                       "April, come she will
                      When streams are ripe and swelled with rain" (Simon 1965). 
                      One of my earliest realizations that poetry was awesome.
       But we will not discuss poetry right now, however, I reserve the right to wax poetic sometime in the future.
       I have been doing more thinking about my heritages and food. While my personal experiences do not compare to the frugal times of the mid-1800's to the World War II days, I have also noticed that what defines Italian cuisine now was not even in dreams back then.
      That brings me to the Big E's latest "love": Smothered sausage. I have seen smothered things on menus before but never took the time to check them out. The Big E went to a restaurant with his brother and a business associate a few months back and he came home yelling "why have you never made smothered sausage before?" Well, for starters I never heard of it, second, what do we smother it with? And third, well, you get the picture. 
    After much research I could not find anything that even remotely came close to the dish he described. So with his memory, pen, paper and a fully stocked kitchen, we set out to re-create the smothered sausage he had not been able to stop dreaming about.
    Because of our diverse tastes right in our own home we decided we would include both sweet and hot Italian sausage. The hot sausage purchased locally is not so hot that my delicate palate rebels. Cutting the amount of hot sausage with the addition of sweet sausage eases my fears of biting into something too spicy; something that will not bother my newly finicky stomach. With that decision in place, we start out and make Italian bread, or in this case, rolls--sub rolls. 
      Somewhere else in this blog I have the best recipe for Italian bread on the planet. Easy and if you follow the directions it is foolproof. The Big E's only criticism of the recipe, well, all bread recipes, is that it takes a long, long time with all the rising times. Hey good things come to those who wait. We make eight 12-inch sub rolls out of the recipe, take them out of the oven and remove them to a cooling rack. 
      While the bread is baking steam the sausage in about 1/4-1/2 inch of water in a large skillet on top of the stove. I cover it to ensure the sausage is cooked inside. When the water evaporates the sausage is usually done, but remove the cover and continue to brown the sausage in the same pan. Slice the cooked sausage into 1/4 inch rounds. Remove sausage to another bowl and cover to keep warm.
      Peel two Vidalia onions, cut in half, then slice thinly. Heat two tablespoons olive oil in the same pan you used for the sausage, get it real hot, until it ripples. Toss in the slices of onion (and stand back so you don't get splattered with hot oil). Sweat the onions and let them begin to caramelize. Toss in green and/or red peppers that have been seeded and sliced--you will need three really good sized peppers. I like to mix both green and red, for the sweetness the red peppers bring to the dish. I cook the peppers only until they just start to go limp--but that is a personal preference--you know the routine--it's your kitchen and your family--cook the peppers to your preference.
    Now it is time to do some smothering! Spray a 13 x 9 inch oven proof dish with non-stick spray, or grease it well if you don't use the spray stuff. Slice the rolls lengthwise and place them in a single layer in the prepared dish. Top the rolls with the sliced sausage, then the onions and peppers, then top with about 2 cups of spaghetti sauce--any kind: homemade or jarred, your family's favorite is fine. Then cover the whole schebang with shredded mozzarella and if you really want it decadent add some shredded cheddar as well. Slide the dish into a 375 degree oven and let 'er bake for about half an hour. The cheese needs to be melted and bubbling and starting to brown. The sauce should be bubbling up as well. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into it and serve it like lasagna. OMG(oodness) Talk about a home run!
     I cannot imagine that any of my ancestors would have ever indulged in this type of dish, mainly because this style of Italian was made from necessity--the immigrants had to make do with what they had. The amount of meat alone would be sufficient to feed the neighborhood back in the early part of the 20th century.
     My visit to Italy in 1972 also introduced me to real Italian food. They do not serve all the tomato based pastas in Italy, at least not in Rome or Florence. The food was more Mediterranean, and they served a larger mid-day meal than the evening meal. Lots of seafood, and fresh vegetables, salads, and lots of fresh fruit. Some pastries, such as sfogliatelle, the shell shaped pastry with all the flaky layers and Ricotta cheese inside, the occasional cannoli, rum cakes, strufoli, and the 7-layer cookies that are called either rainbow cookies or Italian flag cookies and Ricotta cookies. That's about all I need. I do make the Italian Flag cookies and the Ricotta Cookies  around Christmas and I try to make them every year, as they both are a real hit.
      Oh, and REAL cappuccino-- not that stuff they try to pass off as cappuccino in the States today. You know that stuff we find served in the "specialty coffee" houses that are popular today. No, real cappuccino--espresso with hot milk, steamed foamed milk--you can add sugar, shaved chocolate or cinnamon. The crazy flavors is more an American thing--and since we are on the subject I must must must clear the record: a latte is espresso with steamed milk--no sweetener--no flavors--no foam, and is usually drunk in the morning. It drives me batty to go to Starbucks and have to tell them how to make a latte. But at least I have finally learned how to order it so I get what I want and not end up with some monstrosity that is undrinkable. Thank you for letting me rant a bit. Just one of those things that has gotten muddled in translation. Now that I have cleared that up, I think I will get up tomorrow morning a make a pot of latte. 

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