Just over ten years ago, I quit my day job. I was bored and unchallenged and bored and unchallenged and bored.... Selling motorhome windshields was not the life for me. Yes, there was a time when I lived and worked in the motorhome capital of the world. For me, being fulfilled in daily life includes your job...not just what you do outside of work. I can't fathom a work week in which I am unhappy. I'll admit, this doesn't necessarily equal fortune...at least not monetary fortune. But getting to indulge in your passion and practice what you love, not only at home, but in your work. I consider that the greatest fortune of all. So, with the notion of starting culinary school in a few short months, I decided to find a job in "the industry" while I was waiting. One chain and 9 dollars per hour less later...I found myself in the kitchen of an Olive Garden. I know, I know. Many of you are groaning. The Olive Garden!? I would never eat there. Well, that's okay. Even though they are a chain and you can see their daily special on the telly, I was working with food. That, in itself, put a skip in my step. Think that's unrealistic? That I'm a dreamer? Well, it's all a manner of perspective, I suppose. Live your life so that you're happy. That's all I'm saying.
But what some of you may be surprised to know...we actually made most of the food from scratch. Chopped the veggies for each dish. Marinated the pork loins. Made the Alfredo Sauce. Some things like the red sauces and the soups are made in a central location and then bagged in quantity and shipped to the different OG locations....but it's a support facility that ensures that the soup you love so much in your own hometown will be available and greet you reassuringly at another location across the country...should you want it. Don't get me wrong, I prefer small, local restaurants that have amazing chefs creating new daily wonders in the kitchen, but for what it is, the Olive Garden isn't so bad...and for those who watch the commercials and scoff at their Culinary Institute in Italy? It exists. Honest. People who have worked in the corporation for years...from bussers to executives...cross their fingers that they are chosen for the chance to get flown to Italy and attend. And every year a handful are fortunate enough to get to attend! I think that's pretty awesome. But anyhoo...you wonder why I went off on an Olive Garden tangent? It's because there were three dishes that have made themselves a home in the back of my mind. Three dishes that we made during my time there. For all I know, they still do...I haven't been back very often since that six month stint. The first was an amazing pork tenderloin (whole tenderloin per plate...awesome!) that we marinated in rosemary and olive oil and grilled to order...served with roasted red potatoes. Awesome. The second was the shrimp scampi bruschetta....the garlicky wine sauce that pooled around the bottom of fat, sautéed shrimp....I would mop it up with the grilled bread. Aye yay yay. Bliss. And third, an awesome pasta dish...we sliced up hot Italian sausages and tossed them with three colors of bell peper, onion, chile-infused oil...sautéed it all up and tossed it with red sauce and penne. It was killer. I still make some variation of that at home when the craving strikes. It works just as well with sweet Italian sausage if you're not in the mood for heat. The great thing about this dish is that you can personalize it in so many ways. Choose your favorite pasta...homemade or storebought. Same goes for your sauce. I LOVE using extra fennel seeds when I make dishes that include Italian sausage...so I do! Serve it with some warm garlic bread or toast...a glass of wine or a tall glass of cold milk. Let this just be a guide to a wonderful, easy, satisfying meal...
Penne w/ Italian Sausage, Peppers, and Onions
from the kitchen of girlichef
1# Penne Pasta (or another pasta)
~19 oz. Italian Sausage (hot or sweet), bulk
3 bell peppers...different colors....I used red, yellow, and green...sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
~1 Tbs. fennel seeds, smashes & bashed w/ a mortar & pestl
few big pinches of crushed, red chiles
~1 qt. (your favorite) Red Sauce
salt & pepper
(choose some, all...or none)
freshly grated Parmesan
Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. In the meantime, heat a large skillet w/ deep sides over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned w/ crisp bits on the edges (that's how I like it, at least). Throw in the veggies, fennel, and crushed chiles. Sauté until the veggies just start to soften. Add the red sauce and bring to a simmer. The pasta should be just about done...ladle out a bit of the pasta cooking water and stir it into the sauce until you have a nice, saucy consistency. Drain the pasta and then dump it into the pan w/ the sauce. Toss. Serve hot with any of the garnishes. Sop up any sauce with garlic bread. Enjoy!
*This post is linked to:
Presto Pasta Nights is being hosted by Debbie at Debbie Does Dinner this week!