Tag Archives: chicken Italian sausage

Melrose Peppers, Another Love Story

This is a story about Melrose Peppers. It is also a story about growing up in Melrose Park surrounded by family. Not everyone can claim that their hometown has a pepper named after it, but I can.

The Melrose pepper, an Italian sweet variety, came to Melrose Park along with many Italian Immigrants. My grandfather was one of those settlers and like so many others he had a garden. When I was little, I was fascinated with the garden across the street from our house. I remember my grandfather spending hours tending the tomato and pepper plants. There were lots of other vegetables, but those are the ones I remember most. I grew up taking for granted that everyone had a giant field of food within walking distance.

Sadly, my grandfather passed away and before long, so did his garden. The field became home to a trio of brick three flats. The tradition of garden fresh produce continued in Melrose Park, however. There was a converted school bus that came down our street several times a week in the summer. Inside was a veritable wonderland of fruits and vegetables. There always seemed to be plum tomatoes and Melrose peppers. That was a convenience that is no longer a reality.

If for some reason we missed the bus, there was always Tom Naples stand. To call it a stand is an understatement. It was huge (at least to an 8-year-old) and had every vegetable imaginable. There were fields of Melrose peppers growing behind his stand. I think he supplied the entire Chicago area Italian population with these sweet little beauties.

They were a staple in Italian kitchens in the summer. Fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt they crowned sausage and Italian beef sandwiches. They could simmer in tomato sauce and in a time when there was plenty of time they could be stuffed with sausage. My favorite treatment was when they were added to scrambled eggs for that Friday Supper Favorite, Pepper and Egg Sandwiches. Tucked into crusty Italian bread there was nothing better. It was delicious enough that I never missed the meat.

Years passed and access to the peppers did too. With all the bounty of produce we experienced living in California, there was never a Melrose Pepper. Once we moved back to Illinois it took some time before I re-discovered them. I have sung the praises of Caputo’s Fresh Market before, but I may love them the most because they reunited me with my cherished peppers.

This year my love affair reached a new level. I actually found Melrose Pepper plants and two have lived happily in my tiny garden plot. They have withstood heat, rain (and lack thereof), and rabbits and have given me if not a bounty at least some tasty meals.

Since I am always interested in the next “Can you grill it?” adventure I thought it was time to put my small bounty of Melrose beauties to the test. What better way then to pair them with one of their most popular partners, Italian sausage. I chose Scratch Family Chicken Italian Sausage because I got to talk to the creator at my favorite Caputo’s and his passion was as remarkable as his sausage. The sausage which is made with natural ingredients tastes remarkably like its pork cousin. The company is local, based in Montgomery, serving a limited market in the Chicago area. I think it’s due to get more widely known.

This sausage is also fully cooked which made it an even better choice for Mama D’s Grill Basket of Love.

While not traditional, I added a few red bell pepper strips for some color and some sliced sweet onions for a bolder flavor. Everything cooked together so the flavors really had a chance to blend. The result was a one dish meal that would have made my grandfather proud.

There isn’t much of a recipe to write. All you need is enough sausage, peppers, and onions to feed your family. Olive oil, maybe a bit of Italian herbs, and a sprinkle of some Pecorino Romano and you are good to go.

As my lead picture indicates, the last batch of peppers are turning their fully ripe crimson, an event that makes them even sweeter. The last peppers are waiting to be picked and I will miss them. A year is a long time to be without them. The season for these little guys is short and they may be hard to find but, keep an eye out for them, they are worth the hunt.

The Coming of Winter and Lentil and Sausage Casserole

Winter is creeping in, making its presence known a little more each day. I have been turning more often to heartier fare, things that cook a little longer and in the process fill the house with aromas that warm the heart as the oven warms the kitchen. This dish came about for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that there were cooked lentils in the freezer.

These lentils were left from a recipe that I adapted from Cooking Light img_2902Magazine. Dubbed “A Perfect Pot of Lentils” it lived up to its name. A pound of green lentils were flavored with garlic and shallots and seasoned with thyme, tomato paste and dijon mustard. Once they simmered for 45 minutes or so,I was in possession of a lot of very tasty lentils. There was enough for a surprisingly good Lentil Shepherd’s Pie (also adapted from Cooking Light) with more than enough left to get relegated to the freezer until another inspiration dawned. That inspiration came a few days ago in the form of a hearty Lentil and Sausage Casserole.

This casserole boasted some Chicken Italian Sausage along with Crimini Mushrooms, Onions, and Garlic. These elements were sautéed to expand their flavor before joining forces with the lentils.img_2898

Everything nestled cozily into the casserole along with some fresh rosemary, Italian seasoning, and a little chicken stock. Off to the oven it went, snuggly covered in foil. Half an hour later it smelled wonderful, but when its foil blanket was removed, it was sadly was very brown ( the color, not the effect). To remedy that and add another layer of flavor sliced tomatoes and Toscano Cheese were placed on top. A drizzle of olive oil and a return trip to the oven along with a brief shot under the broiler resulted in a much prettier offering.img_2911

It now looked good and smelled divine. All that was left to do was taste it and see if that too would be in the plus column. It was determined that we had a winner on all levels, always a good thing.img_2917

Lentil and Chicken Sausage Casserole
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Servings
4
Servings
4
Lentil and Chicken Sausage Casserole
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray. Put the lentils in the dish and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice the sausage into 1/2" coins. Heat a medium skillet over high heat. Add the sausage slices and cook until lightly browned on one side, 3 - 4 minutes.
  3. Turn the sausage and cook another 3 - 4 minutes. When the second side is browned, remove the sausage from the pan add to the lentils in the casserole.
  4. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes or so stirring often. Add some of the chicken stock if things seem dry.
  5. Once the veggies are soft and fragrant, add them along with any drippings to the casserole. Add the rosemary and Italian seasoning.
  6. Mix all the ingredients together and cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until things are bubbly.
  7. Layer the tomato slices on top of the casserole. Sprinkle with the cheese and drizzle with a little more olive oil.
  8. Return to the oven uncovered and bake another few minutes until the tomatoes begin to soften and the cheese melts.
  9. Turn the oven to broil and let the casserole go 3 - 4 minutes until it is golden. Remove from the oven and let set 10 minutes before serving.
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All of these recipes have instilled a significant dose of “Lentil Love” in my soul. As winter continues to arrive, these protein and fiber rich little pulses (I learned that nifty term from the same Cooking Light article) will be making more appearances in Mama D’s Kitchen. Besides being nutritionally amazing, they are cheap, which leaves more money in the budget for Christmas Shopping…which is one more reason to give lentils and all their wonderful pulse cousins a try.

A Semi-Grilled Supper: Bruschetta Pasta with Sausage and Zucchini

Summer marches on at a breakneck pace. Not only is the time going by far too quickly, but the school year will be starting in just over two weeks. Summer has been wonderful even if I’ve only made a small dent in the plans I had for this time. Here in the Midwest, the weather has been on the hot and humid side. Yes, I know that’s what summer in the Midwest is like, but the hot and humid seems to cling to the days like static cling to polyester.

Grilling is still the cooking style of choice, but Mama and Papa can’t live by the grill alone. Once in a while we want pasta. I do not intend to put pasta to the “Can You Grill It?” challenge, at least not in its uncooked state. There is certainly the possibility of grilling the sauce ingredients and that’s what I did not long ago.

It really started because I had some tomato bruschetta ( click here for more about bruschetta) left over. It met all the pasta sauce requirements. Tomatoes in a highly flavorful liquid complimented with red onions, basil and garlic. I also had some Chicken Italian Sausage and zucchini (it isn’t summer without it). I had just enough whole grain penne left to make it a meal.IMG_2167

So the main characters were assembled and the sausage and zucchini begged to be cooked on the grill. Well, I may have had something to do with their decision. The whole grilling process was pretty quick since the sausage was already cooked and the zucchini (combined with some onions and dressed with some olive oil and  Italian seasoning) doesn’t take long to char lightly.IMG_2172

While everything was cooking I pondered what else might make this dish even better. A little fresh mozzarella and a hearty handful of basil seemed like the perfect additions. These were already on hand so it was one of those “no brainer” choices.IMG_2170

When the pasta was cooked to my liking, I saved several ladles of the pasta water to give the sauce a little more “umph” Everything came together in rapid fashion and a simple yet delicious supper was on the table.IMG_2173

Bruschetta Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Zucchini
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Bruschetta Pasta with Grilled Sausage and Zucchini
Print Recipe
Servings
4
Servings
4
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine the Zucchini, Onion, Italian Seasoning, and Olive Oil in a bowl. Toss to mix and set it aside.
  2. Heat a large pot of water to boiling and season generously with salt. Add the pasta and cook to your favorite level of "al dente" Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.
  3. While the pasta cooks, heat your grill to medium high. Place the sausage on the top rack. Heat a grill basket and add the zucchini onion mixture. Grill until the sausage is browned and the zucchini is lightly charred.
  4. Slice the sausage into 1/2 inch thick coins.
  5. Combine the drained pasta, sausage, zucchini and the reserved pasta water in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss to mix everything together. Add the mozzarella and basil and toss once more to combine.
  6. Transfer to a large bowl and serve.
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This is a wonderful way to use the bounty from the garden or the farmer’s market. Use whatever sounds or looks perfect to you. There is never a right or wrong when it comes to a supper filled with freshness and love.

 

Italian Cauliflower Mac & Cheese for All Seasons

While spring is officially here, the weather has been far from Springlike. Call it confused, call it crazy, but any day that gives you snow, sleet and rain along with a touch of sun, but temperature wise is still in the 30’s is a good reason to make a comfort food casserole that warms the heart and the kitchen. While I know that things will get better (in fact, they are already) Mac & cheese has no season.

IMG_1608This started with equal parts of pasta and cauliflower. The “Gigli” looked a bit like the cauliflower and the combination lightened the carb load a bit. This could also be a great disguise for vegetables if that is an issue in your family. Any way, the pasta cooked to almost al dente before I added the cauliflower. I drained it all and set it aside.IMG_1618

I chopped two Italian Chicken Sausage links and added them to a hot pan. (I wanted a little of that crunchy meat taste, but you could easily leave it out.)  Beautifully browned, they sat on the sidelines for a bit. Then a swirl of olive oil followed by some garlic, onion, and red bell pepper went into the pan. I let this get golden and used a bit of chicken stock to de-glaze the pan. Flour went in and a stock/oil roux came together. I used Fat Free Half and Half and more chicken stock to create the sauce.

tjs-toscano I combined equal parts of Black Pepper Toscano ( this wonderfully asiago cheesecreamy Parmesan cheese has made several appearances in Mama D’s recipes) and Olive Oil  Rosemary Asiago cheeses (Another Mama D favorite with just the right sharpness and plenty of rosemary kick). Both of these cheeses come from Trader Joe’s, but any sharp Italian cheese would work. Emphasis on the “sharp”…a little goes a long way to create big flavor in a small package. I used about 1/2 cup shredded of each cheese and the flavor was more than satisfying.IMG_1616

All the players came together in a baking dish.  It baked covered for about 20 minutes, then I removed the foil and added breadcrumb topping and let it bake a bit more before cranking the oven to “Broil” and letting the golden magic happen.IMG_1629

It was very pretty, but that was nothing compared to how it tasted. A few sautéed grape tomatoes were the only addition to this “enlightened” meal. IMG_1634 It had the creaminess of a full dairy cheese sauce, but the chicken stock lowered the fat content nicely. While it wasn’t completely guilt free, it was darn close. This could easily serve six people, but in reality it is more like four servings, but even at that it still won’t totally break the fat and calorie bank.

Italian Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Italian Cauliflower Mac & Cheese
Print Recipe
Servings
6
Servings
6
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until not quite "al dente". Add the cauliflower and bring back to a boil. Drain and rinse, then set aside.
  2. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Coat lightly with cooking spray and add the sausage. Cook the sausage until it is golden brown, stirring frequently. Remove the sausage from the pan and set it aside.
  3. Add the olive oil to the pan. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook stirring often until everything is soft and fragrant. Add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock to the pan. Stir to loosen any brown bits. Add the flour and cook and stir for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining stock stirring until smooth. Stir in Half & Half and cook until the mixture thickens and is bubbly. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the grated cheese, stirring until it melts.
  5. Coat a rectangular baking dish with cooking spray. Combine the pasta, cauliflower, sausage, and cheese sauce in the pan. cover the pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
  6. Combine the melted butter, bread crumbs, and Parmesan. Remove the foil and top the casserole with the crumb mixture. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Turn oven to broil and allow the topping to brown.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
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As I get ready to post this, it feels like Spring is truly here. Let’s hope that it plans on staying for awhile.