The day I turned 17, I drove 20 miles out of my small town to look for a part-time job. That was how I chose to spend my birthday. I loved school and my friends, but I was eager to experience the world. The first place that was hiring was a restaurant called Johnny Carino’s Italian Kitchen, they’ve since shortened the name to Carino’s Italian. The managers interviewed me that day and offered me a job on the spot. It was one of my proudest moments. I had gone out into the world and “made it.”
I took my hostessing job very seriously, organizing systems to make sure every waiter got the same amount of tables, the kitchen didn’t get slammed, and guests were greeted and seated promptly or quoted an accurate wait time. I loved it. The multi-tasking, the smell of roasted garlic drizzled with olive oil and herbs, Frank Sinatra crooning over the speakers, the dim light, the kind and the quirky guests, the power of controlling the flow of the restaurant. Waiters, be kind to your hostess, for she knows who the $20 tipper is, she knows his kids’ names and she knows you can impress him by greeting him with his glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. Be good to her and she may seat him in your section and share the inside scoop with you. She also knows the $2 tippers. Be kind to your hostess, waiters, and she’ll be kind to you.
From my hostess stand, I could see the open kitchen where the chefs pulled pizza out of the brick oven and sent out scalding hot plates of baked lasagna. I remember the sound of the skillets sizzling and the trail of smoke that followed the food runner as they delivered the piping hot skillet filled with spaghetti, spicy marinara, sausage, onions and peppers to the hungry guests.
Almost twelve years after taking that job in the “big city,” here I am living 20 miles in a different direction from that same Italian restaurant, back in a small town, happy to no longer work in the “real world.” Funny how life works and time changes us.
I got the hankering for Carino’s classic skillet dish the other day and created a simple vegan version using Apple Sage Field Roast grain meat sausages (100% vegan, soy-free). I don’t use a lot of fake meat products because they are so processed and full of non-organic soy, but these sausages are different. I know what every ingredient is: filtered water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed safflower oil, nonsulfered dried apples, yukon gold potatoes, yeast extract, onion powder, barley malt, garlic, hickory smoke, natural flavoring with torula yeast, sea salt, spices, sage. At least you know what’s in this sausage! Plus, it tastes delicious in this dish and packs 26 grams of protein per link. (I don’t have any ties to Field Roast, I just really like their product.)
Rustic Sausage & Peppers Skillet (Vegan)
- 1/2 package of whole wheat pasta, cooked al dente (1-2 minutes less than recommended cooking time)
- ~2 T. olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced in thin strips
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced in strips
- 2 links of Smoked Apple Sage Field Roast Sausages, chopped into rounds
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced into thin “chips”
- 2 cups of spicy pasta sauce (I used Emeril’s Kicked Up Tomato Sauce in a jar, my Arrabiata Sauce would be great too.)
Generously coat a large skillet (iron or stainless steel work better than a nonstick for this recipe) with olive oil and heat on medium heat. When warm, add onions and saute for a few minutes until they start to get soft. Add bell peppers and sausage and turn to almost med-high heat, stir every minute or so until the onions, bell peppers, and sausage are slightly charred. Turn off heat. Stir in garlic chips for a couple of minutes. Stir in al dente pasta and pasta sauce. You can turn heat back on to warm the sauce, but I didn’t need to. Serve immediately.
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