Italian "Sausage" Sandwiches with Spicy Grilled Peppers and Fennel-Onion Mustard

By • August 12, 2011 • 10 Comments

Author Notes: When I was a child growing up in Denver, Colorado, it was a yearly tradition to attend and help out at an annual Italian fair. The fair, which is still a North Denver institution, is called St. Rocco's Feast, and it is sponsored by the Societa di Nativi di Potenza, a fraternal social club whose members are descendants of immigrants from Potenza, Basilicata, Italy. My great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all active members of this organization. The celebration of St. Rocco's Feast starts with a Catholic mass and a procession, where the right to carry a statue of St. Rocco is bid upon. (St. Rocco was a twelfth-century French priest who went to Rome and devoted himself to plague victims, performing many miraculous cures.) After the mass, an Italian street fair is held, complete with live music, raffles, and games of chance. Prizes center around Italian food, such as a gallon of olive oil, a salami, a round Provolone cheese ball hanging from a string, or even a homemade cake. Hot dogs, homemade popcorn balls and sausage and fried pepper sandwiches are also sold to fair-goers.

When I was a child, I was happy enough to eat a hot dog and a popcorn ball. But when I was a teenager, I developed a fondness for the sausage and pepper sandwiches. These were not the ubiquitous link sausage sandwiches commonly served in a hot dog bun. No, these sandwiches resembled hamburgers; bulk sausage was shaped into a patty, then grilled. The sausage was spicy and the sandwiches delivered an extra kick thanks to mouth-tingling fried Italian pepper and a smear of yellow mustard. I haven't thought about these sandwiches in years, but when this recipe contest was announced, I wanted to pay homage to them.

Instead of using actual Italian sausage, I opted to make my own meat mixture so that I could add my own flavorings. For the best flavor, I recommend using really good quality pork, preferably purchased from a butcher. I experimented with some different cuts of pork, but found that using a mix of pork sirloin and pork shank delivered the best flavor. You don't want pork meat too lean or it will taste too dry. As for the peppers, a sweet pepper such as a bell pepper is simply too mild. You want something with a little bit of heat. And while you could serve these sandwiches with plain mustard, relish, or even ketchup, it doesn't take much effort to whip up some fennel-onion mustard. The inspiration for the mustard comes from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home. Keller has recipes for several vegetable mustards. He recommends using any vegetable that can be cooked and then pureed and then simply blending it with vinegar and bottled mustard. I decided to use fennel because I love the flavor combination of fennel and pork. While I have borrowed some of Keller's basic mustard-making technique, I have opted to use my own flavorings, such as fennel pollen (which I am drying in copious amounts from my garden), olive oil, and mustard seeds. The result is pretty tasty and would work well on all sorts of sandwiches and grilled meats.

Food52 Review: If you're throwing a backyard barbecue and want a change from standard hamburgers and hotdogs, this is the sandwich for you. The Italian sausage flavor is perfectly complemented by the slightly spicy peppers and the piquant fennel-onion mustard. I couldn't find Cubanelles, so substituted Anaheims with great success. I used my food processor to purée the mustard, which worked quite well. There are only a couple of very minor things I will do differently the next time I make this: I'll make the mustard ahead of time and I'll form the "sausage" into 4 patties rather than 6 so they fit the buns better. This recipe (and the mustard alone) is great to add to your grilling repertoire.hardlikearmour

Serves 4 to 6, with plenty of mustard left to use on sandwiches, grilled pork and chicken, etc.

Homemade Mustard

  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks and core removed, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, ground
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel pollen or freshly ground fennel seed
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat a large sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil. When oil is warm, add fennel and onion to pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened and edges have just started to brown. Add minced garlic to pan. After a minute or so, when garlic starts to release its aroma, adjust heat to low and add vinegar to pan. Mixture will sizzle for a minute. Continue to cook until there is only a tablespoon or two of liquid left in the pan and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and let vegetables cool for about 15 minutes.
  2. Add vegetable mixture and any remaining liquid to blender bowl. Add crushed mustard seeds, thyme, 2 tablespoons water, Dijon mustard, and fennel pollen to blender. Put cover on bowl and begin to blend mixture. With motor running, drizzle in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add additional water a tablespoon at a time if mixture is too thick and isn't puréeing easily. Depending on how powerful your blender motor is, you may want to purée mixture in batches. I found that it worked well for my blender to divide the mixture into two batches. Continue blending until mixture resembles a smooth purée.
  3. Taste mustard, and add salt 1/2 teaspoon at a time until flavor is balanced. If mustard does not taste sufficiently mustardy, add additional cider vinegar a teaspoon at a time until flavor tastes right.
  4. Remove mustard from blender and put in serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate while you cook peppers and sandwiches. Mustard will keep in fridge for several weeks.

"Sausage" and Pepper Sandwiches

  • 2 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoons sage, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 ounce pancetta
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fennel pollen or freshly ground fennel seed
  • 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 pound pork (not too lean and preferably sourced from a butcher)
  • 6 hamburger buns, preferably whole grain
  • 6 Italian frying peppers (sometimes called Cubanelle peppers) or other slightly spicy peppers
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Chop shallots, garlic, and pancetta as finely as you can. In large mixing bowl, add the first eight ingredients (shallots through thyme) and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add 1 teaspoon salt and pork to the bowl and gently separate pork strands with your fingers. Gently mix ingredients together with your hands until the pork is coated with seasonings.
  2. Form a tablespoon-sized ball of meat with your fingers. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and add grapeseed oil to pan. When oil is hot, flatten ball slightly and add to pan. Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes per side or until meat has developed a golden crust. Remove mini-patty from pan and let rest for a minute or two. Taste it to judge if seasonings should be adjusted. Add a little more salt to the meat in the mixing bowl if needed. If the mini-patty doesn't taste spicy enough, add a little more crushed red pepper flakes to bowl. If the herbal flavors aren't coming through very strongly, add more rosemary, sage, and thyme to the meat in the bowl.
  3. Divide the meat into six portions. Form each portion into a large ball. Place on a cookie sheet or large plate and refrigerate.
  4. Fire up the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, light the coals. If you have a gas grill, as I do, light the grill and turn up the heat to medium high. If you have some, put some mesquite wood chips in your smoker box. While grill is heating, remove stems from peppers, slice peppers in half, and remove seeds. Brush outside of pepper halves with 1 tablespoon or so of olive oil.
  5. When grill is hot (about 500 degrees), oil the grill's cooking rack. Add peppers to the rack and cover the grill. Grill peppers for about 3 to 4 minutes per side until the peppers have some nice charring. It is not necessary for the peppers to be totally blackened. Remove and put peppers in a bowl to continue steaming. Cover with a tea towel.
  6. Remove pork balls from the fridge. Slightly flatten each one with your hand or a spatula until it resembles a thick hamburger patty. Grill each patty for about 4 to 5 minutes per side until the outside of the patties are nice and golden and the insides are cooked to a light pink. I usually cut one patty and take a peek inside to see if it is done. Do not overcook. Pork too well done gets tough very quickly! Remove patties from heat and let rest for about five minutes.
  7. While the "sausage" is resting, brush the insides of each bun with the remaining tablespoon or so of olive oil. Grill buns on warming rack until they are a lovely golden brown. Remove peppers from bowl and put on platter. Remove skin and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.
  8. Put a bun on each diner's plate. Spread some fennel-onion mustard on the insides of the buns. Top with a "sausage" patty and one or two slices of grilled peppers. Serve with an ice cold beer or a glass of lemonade. Enjoy, and dine al fresco if you can!
Jump to Comments (10)

Tags: backyard barbecue, barbecue, Basilicata, grilling, Italian American cuisine, mustard, sandwich, sausage, savory, spicy

Comments (10) Questions (0)


over 1 year ago lapadia



over 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you, Linda!


about 3 years ago gingerroot

Fennel is one of my favorites this and bet it is delicious.


about 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

I can't edit this recipe while it's in the test kitchen, but just wanted to add that the peppers I used for this sandwich were not Cubanelle, but were actually of the Padron variety. I bought them at my local farmer's market and they were amazing -- meaty with a vibrant burst of heat. Padrons are a tapas pepper from Spain and are commonly served brushed with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Evidently, they are a mild pepper but get spicier the longer they grow. The ones I used were about 3 inches long.


about 3 years ago There'sAlwaysPie

This sounds/looks amazing! I love sausage and peppers. I grew up close to Buffalo where there are also a lot of Italian festivals in the summer so these flavors bring back great memories. I'm going to make these this weekend!


about 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you, There'sAlwaysPie! I love all of the food at Italian festivals, too. Let me know what you think if you try these sandwiches.


about 3 years ago EmilyC

Love this too -- both the mustard and the sausage patty! The Italian fair sounds like a fun tradition!


about 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thanks, Emily! The mustard and sausage nicely compliment each other. I was really pleased with the combination of flavors. Yes, that festival was great. I'm going to try to track down a photo of it to post with the recipe.


about 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Love this, the fennel onion mustard is divine!


about 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you for the sweet comment, sdebrango! Fennel is one of my all time favorite foods. How do I love fennel? Let me count the ways. . . .