Funny thing: While pizza and eggplant parm and zeppole have become trendy menu items these days, so far one of the most beloved food items of Italian-American culture has missed revival. In fact, when I was growing up in the Bronx, sausage and peppers was the abiding cure-all dish, as a main course at night, as a snack to munch on, and as a feast food, served from sheet pans on special occassions. It was carried to construction sites in work pails, taken to ball games wrapped in paper, sold on hulking hero loaves from carts. As far as I know, there isn’t an exact provenance for this dish: sausage, peppers, and onions is a popular combination in southern Italy, where bell peppers grow profusely, and so it became popular here.
I recently went down to Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to bone up on my sausage-and-peppers lore. “In Naples they use the hot fennel sausage with melted mozzarella and tomato sauce,” said the deli’s owner, David Greco. “North of Naples, no sauce, and they used more sweet sausage.” It goes without saying that the most conventional and delicious way to eat the food is in a length of crusty Italian bread. I bit into both versions, wholly undecided as to which was better, but as I sipped a sweet red wine from a glass tumbler, it didn’t seem to matter much. I just thought about how I was going to finish both.