The days are shorter, the air is cooler, school's back in session: As The Husband says, "It's cooking season!" I know everyone rhapsodizes about summer food, when our farmers' markets, roadside stands, and CSA baskets are overflowing with beautiful produce. But due to a confluence of jam-packed schedules (The Boy and The Girl), very long work hours (The Husband), and an annual summer-long hay-fever fest that turns the stomach (Me), there is little actual cooking occurring in my house in the summer. Good thing most of that bounty tastes better when it's simply prepared (that is, raw). The minute I sense that snap in the air, though, I feel better, all is forgiven, and I'm slaving happily over a hot stove again.
This summer and fall, according to a few farmers I've talked to, has been a great year for both local peppers and potatoes. Both plants are members of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, with related plants including chili pepper, tomato, and tobacco. I know that we got a bonanza of both bell peppers and potatoes from our CSA share this year.
Cooler weather recently meant the family was looking for a more satisfying fall dinner, maybe something with a nice long stint in the oven to warm up the house a bit. I decided to make a classic pan-roast of Italian sausages with potatoes, peppers, and onions, all local. The recipe is pretty much verbatim from The Sopranos Family Cookbook, with recipes by Michele Scicolone. Amounts don't really matter for this dinner; if you find your baking sheet seems crowded, though, use two sheets so it doesn't take forever to cook.
While the oven preheated to 450 degrees, I washed about a pound of newly-dug Bear Hill Farm (our CSA) potatoes, so fresh that I didn't remove the peels. The potatoes got cut into 1-inch chunks, along with 3 Bear Hill bell peppers (seeded) and 2 large Bear Hill onions (peeled), and thrown into a large bowl. I drizzled about 1/4 cup of olive oil over the vegetables, mixed so all the surfaces got coated with oil, and spread them in a single layer on my biggest baking sheets. A little salt and pepper on top, and then into the oven for about 45 minutes. I stirred the vegs. once during that time. You can also experiment with other vegetables: I recommend green beans, sweet potatoes, or brussels sprouts. Just make sure the taste of the new entrants goes with Italian sausage.
I removed the sheets from the oven and placed about 1 1/2 pounds of Italian sausage (made locally in Leominster, MA by Paisano's Pizza parlor--seriously worth the drive) right on top of the vegetables. You'll put the whole pan back into the oven. You can mix sweet and hot sausage or roast a whole panful of whichever kind your gang likes best. Make sure you pierce each sausage a couple of times so they don't explode all over your oven. After another 15-30 minutes, depending on how crowded your pan is, the sausages and potatoes should be cooked through and ready. Meat, starch, veg all in one pan. Genius.
Although the summer farmers' market and CSA pickups are over for the season, look for local produce and products at our own Agway Winter Farmers' Market, which kicks off on November 3. I bet you'll find some amazing potatoes and onions that will help to make a fine dinner some chilly fall night.