Alright, now that I've cleared that three-week blogging hiatus out of the way, it's time to get back to business. I'll be the first to admit (and Dan would likely be second) that the last three weeks have not been filled with fancy schmancy creativity in my kitchen. The last three weeks have, on the other hand, been filled with creative wedding planning and careering. That has to count for something, right?
Over the last few weeks, I've clung to my own, personal culinary comforts like they were going out of style all while tossing my desire to create in the kitchen to the wayside like an old pair of gym shoes. Pita pizza? Heck yes. Pita pizza three nights in a row? Umm, can you say triple awesomeness?! Frozen yogurt for dinner? Only makes a Sunday night that much sweeter! Fried egg sandwich smothered in cheese and ketchup? Why not?!
As any thorough psychologist would do, I pondered the possible causes for the changes in my behavior. Had I lost my cooking mojo? Was the loss of my cooking inspiration simply an unconscious and temporary solution to the busyness in other areas of my life? What were my cravings for comfort, convenience, and randomness telling me about my current state of being? After psychoanalyzing myself for a hot minute, I came to the conclusion that I needed a brief blogging break to rekindle my affinity for the craft of blogging. I gently reminded myself that this blog is not a place for me to go through the motions; it's the prized holder of hundreds of hours of inspiration, memories in my kitchen, and many of the experiences that have defined my life over the last year. The moment I felt that I should (i.e., that nasty little word I promised myself I'd live without this year) be blogging regularly simply to uphold Blissful Basil's worth was the moment it felt like a burden. Thus, I am once again reminded that, for me, this blog is about quality over quantity, sharing my thoughts and recipes at a pace that I can manage, and treasuring the happiness I feel when I'm brought back to my place of creativity.
Having said that (for all you Curb Your Enthusiasm fans out there)...
I have a new recipe to share with you and it's uh-freaking-mazing. Last Wednesday, I got my cooking mojo back and decided to recreate a recipe that was very near and dear to my heart pre-vegetarian days: sausage and peppers! Ever since I can remember, my step dad (whom I lovingly refer to as "pops") has been making sausage and peppers during the fall and winter months, and it's something I feared I may never enjoy again as a vegetarian. My step dad may be Irish by blood but he is most definitely Italian by heart and soul, and he is dedicated to the art of making this traditional dish. Catching a glimpse of sausage-less Italian sausage at the grocery store, I figured I would at least attempt a recreation.
I had my doubts as to whether soy meat could bring its A-game to this dish but, soy sausage, you proved me wrong. This vegetarian alternative to sausage and peppers is pretty much identical in taste and texture to the real thing. However, I worried that perhaps I had been so seduced by vegetarianism that I could no longer detect the missing flavors in my once favorite dish. So, I had to put it to the test.
First, I sought Dan's feedback. He gave it a 10/10. Of all the dishes I've cooked, this was the first 10 I had ever received from him. However, he had never tried the "real" thing, so more evidence needed to be gathered. It just so happened that my mom and step dad visited us a couple of days later, so I figured I'd put this recipe through the true test of tastiness. Pops is not only a sausage and peppers connoisseur, he's also a hater of fake meats. This was going to be a difficult case to make. To his utter surprise and mine, he was amazed by the vegetarian version and thought it was nearly identical to the real thing. Just the proof I needed.
This dish is one that will thoroughly please the tastes of vegetarians and meat eaters. It's super simple to throw together, makes oodles of servings, and creates the most divine aroma while cooking. It's a favorite of mine, and I hope it becomes a favorite of yours, too.
Vegetarian Sausage and Peppers (Serves 6-8)
◊ 8 sausage-less Italian sausage links (I used TJ's version)
◊ 2 12-ounce cans light beer
◊ 2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
◊ 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
◊ 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
◊ 3 garlic cloves, minced
◊ 1 cup red wine
◊ 2 32-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
◊ 1 tsp crushed red pepper
◊ sea salt
◊ 16 oz rigatoni, cooked according to package instructions
◊ 1 cup shaved parmigiano
1. Pour beer into a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add sausage-less links in batches and boil each batch for 7 minutes.
2. While the "sausages" boil, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced bell peppers and a dash of sea salt. Sauté peppers until slightly tender.
3. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant.
4. Remove the beer-boiled links and let cool on cutting board. Quarter each link and add to pot with garlic and olive oil. Sauté quartered links until golden brown and slightly caramelized. Add red wine and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add sautéed peppers.
5. Hand-crush the canned plum tomatoes into the "sausage" and pepper mixture (make sure you wear an apron -- this can get messy but makes for excellent stress relief!).
6. Season with sea salt and crushed red pepper, to taste. Let simmer with lid off for 1 ½ to 2 hours to reduce.