James Gandolfini, who passed away at a tender young age of 51 this week, was an actor who played film and TV characters that were bigger than life.
More often than not, they were the “Bad Guys”. But from all accounts I have heard, especially from those who knew him personally, Gandolfini was a kind, gentle and generous man that respected everyone who he worked with. I never met him. I wish I did.
Gandolfini will always be known for his role in playing the modern-day Italian-American New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a thug with a heart, a family man, and a man with considerable weaknesses and great personal demons.
He was brutal, as a Mafia Don should be, but he commanded respect and he was obviously a guy that appreciated the good things in life. Like Gandolfini.
So for Gandolfini, who like his alter-ego Tony Soprano also grew up in the Garden State, in the exact Bergen County area I lived in for 22 years, I wanted dedicate a dish to him.
This is what I came up with — a pasta twist on the classic Italian-American sausage and peppers that is seen in summer festivals and pizza restaurants as a sandwich all over the New York and New Jersey metro area.
But like Tony Soprano, this one has a bite.
The recipe is also somewhat heart-healthy as it only uses a small amount of oil. Given the circumstances of Gandolfini’s passing, he’d probably not want you to go the same way.
This dish calls for fresh ripened tomatoes (plum, if you can get them) and fresh basil. Don’t even bother to make it unless you have these.
Pasta a la Gandolfini
1/2 Box of Dried Pasta (6oz) , Whole Wheat preferred
3/4lb fresh Italian sausage, hot or sweet. If sweet add chile pepper flakes.
1 Tbps Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 White Onion, sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
4 or 5 Cubanelle Peppers, sliced
1 Habanero Chile or other very hot chile pepper, fresh, julienned
4 Garlic Cloves, julienned
1 cup diced ripe tomatoes, preferably a variety from your garden
1 handful of fresh basil leaves (also from your garden)
Grated Parmigiano Cheese to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cook pasta of your choice in salted boiling water to al dente consistency while you prepare the condimenti.
Remove sausage from casing if using links. Brown in large non-stick pan and drain to remove excess fat. Set aside in large bowl.
Using a silicone basting brush, brush a scant amount of olive oil in the pan, saute the onions and peppers of each type individually, adding to the bowl with the sausage as soon as you get some char marks and is just barely cooked.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan, along with the sliced hot chile pepper and garlic. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Once again, just cook until they barely wilt. Add the reserved ingredients back to the pot.
Reserve about 1/2 cup water when you drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the water to the pan and toss to combine with other ingredients.
Remove from heat, add the basil, black pepper & cheese. Toss and serve.