Being an Italian-American, I take pride in my heritage. I am also particular about how I like my sausage and pepper sandwiches made. If you are not from the north eastern part of the US, didn’t grow up around large groups of Italians or in an Italian household, you may not have every heard of “Sausage and Peppers”. What I’ve found is that it is made differently depending on the family recipe. This was proven when we decided to check out Little Italy’s annual San Gennaro Festival on Wednesday night. San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples, Italy and his feast day is September 19th. Back on September 18th, 1926, new Nepolitan immigrants held the first Feast of San Gennaro in America, similar to the one they held in Italy. This one-day celebration turned into an 11 day event (I can’t find when that exactly happened) spanning Mulberry Street in NYC.
Now that you have the background of the event I can tell you a bit about my experience. The first time I went 5 years ago it was basically the same at it was 2 days ago – a genuine cheese-fest. I felt like I was walking down the boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ! But, I later learned I should have felt like I was walking down the boardwalk in
Sleezeside Seaside Heights, NJ which, if you don’t know, is basically a mirror image of the Wildwood boardwalk. The reason for this, we were told, is that many of the vendors at the festival also own stores in Sleezeside. Just to paint a picture for you, the festival (and the boardwalk) is a nice mix of iron-on t-shirt shops (see pics), pizza/zeppoli restaurants, crappy, ‘disposable’ clothing shops and old-school arcades where you can attempt to win an ugly, highly flammable stuffed animal. In fact, within the first 2 minutes walking through the festival, Jonny was swindled by a woman manning a game booth who just kept handing him darts to throw and then told him his ‘game’ cost $35… right.
The one thing that people get excited for at the San Gennaro festival is the food – mainly the Sausage and Peppers. My grandmom made her sausage and peppers different from the ones at the festival which are just grilled with some oil and put in a nice hero roll (Grandma’s recipe to follow). The Italian sausage was delish and spicy but the guys working the grill were a bit shy on the peppers (in fact there were barely any left to give us). The other thing that was interesting about the festival was the presence of Mexican vendors. Now, believe me, I LOVE Mexican food, but at an Italian festival? If you put mozzerella cheese in an arepa it doesn’t automatically make it an Italian treat… right? It would’ve made more sense if there were Chinese vendors because Little Italy in NYC is really no longer – it is more like Little Italy/Chinatown. The whole thing kind of left a strange taste in my mouth and made me wonder what the original San Gennaro festivals were like.
The night at San Gennaro ended on a bad note as we discovered that Jonny’s crappy ‘came-free-with-the-plan’ cell phone was stolen from the side of his bag. It used to be thought that the festival was actually planned by the mob so maybe it was inside job. I hope they can even resell that piece of sh$t for more than 2 bucks!
All in all it was an interesting night. Not quite what we were hoping for, but still a Northeastern cultural event that I probably will not be attending again.
In memory of my lovely grandma Anna Norcia, I offer you her recipe for Sausage and Peppers. Very different from the one at San Gennaro but, in my opinon, much more delicious. Note that the original really calls for no measurements of ingredients. You kind of have to ‘get your Italian-mama’ on and just keep tasting till it tastes good. I tried my best to give measurements, but I would still continue to taste to see if you think it needs more ‘ummmph’. Enjoy!
ANNA’S ‘MAKE A LOAD FOR THE GRADUATION PARTY’ SAUSAGE & PEPPERS
- Spicy Italian Sausage Links (2 lbs.)
- white wine (maybe 1/2 cup?)
- pork gravy (of course homemade would be great, but store-bought will be fine)
- green and red peppers (3 peppers total)
- 2 onions – sliced
- 2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
- olive oil
- good quality hoagie/hero/sub rolls
- Slice your sausage into 1-inch pieces. Brown.
- Slice up your peppers (into strips) and onions (into thick slices) and saute until semi-soft then add chopped garlic. Don’t let them get too soft cause you want them to have a bit of chew.
- Add the pork gravy and the wine and simmer on low for about a half hour.
- Add some salt and pepper to taste.
- Using a slotted spoon, spoon the sausage/pepper/onions into a sliced hoagie roll. Top with some of the gravy. (Note: You can also eat this on top of rice or noodles if you prefer).
Maybe this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it reminds me of home (as well as every family party we ever had!).