While raking leaves from the garden, I notice the nip in the air and a whiff of wood smoke. The season for salads is over and it’s time for hardier fare.

Though I had big plans for dinner, by 5 p.m. my patience was thin and time had run short. So I turned to a trusted favorite, a sausage, pepper and onion combo spooned into a sturdy baguette. It’s a two-fisted, sandwich I’ve been making since high school when a friend’s mother introduced me to the frying peppers she grew in her New Jersey backyard — thin-skinned, crisp, mellow-sweet that ripened into rainbow hues.

They’re known as Cubanelles and are a mainstay in Italian cuisine. Early explorers of the Caribbean brought them back to Italy where cooks have been frying, stuffing and pickling them for centuries.

Most often sold when they’re a young chartreuse green, they ripen to become brilliant orange, or lipstick red and often sport pretty pale streaks. They are sometimes mislabeled “banana peppers” but those bright yellow peppers have a stronger fruity heat. Be careful not to mistake Italian frying peppers for Hungarian wax peppers, which can be searing.

Because these peppers don’t have much flesh, I like them best sautéed rather than fresh. The larger peppers are perfect for stuffing, too. When at the farmers market, look for peppers with tight, firm, unbruised skins, free of soft spots. Too long off their vines, they become wrinkled and collapse.

Store fresh peppers stashed in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer and keep them dry because moisture will cause them to rot; they should keep about a week when handled this way.

When slicing these peppers, it’s easiest to cut them open horizontally first, then gently cut away the veins with a paring knife and scrape off the seeds.

A fry-up of sausage and peppers makes for a cheerful, carefree autumn dinner. The peppers sweeten slightly, becoming lush and tender as they cook, a nice match to the sausage’s rich texture and bold seasoning. I like to cook the sausage first and then add the peppers to sauté in the rendered fat so they absorb all the sausage flavors.

At that point, you can then tangle the mix in pasta and top it with shredded Parmesan; spoon it over cheesy polenta, or pile it on fluffy mashed potatoes.

Or place the whole skillet full of peppers into a crusty loaf of rustic Italian bread.


Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.