Despite the fact that I love to cook, love to eat, and am a quote-”foodie,” over the past year I’ve eaten out a surprisingly dismal amount. Between work, school, externship hunting, and cooking at home often for both practice and the blog, eating out fell by the wayside. So along with a slew of other resolutions, when 2012 rolled around, I vowed this would be the year I got back on the New York City restaurant scene. Adam and I instilled a weekly Thursday night date with plans to try new restaurants more often, and at the very top of our list was “Sauce.”
Sauce opened late last year on the Lower East Side, just a few blocks from Adam’s apartment, which meant we both walked past it multiple times a week. At first we were intrigued by the restaurant’s sign, which instead of being emblazoned with just the name, was covered in endless white words upon a black backdrop: “ricotta” “grass-fed” “meatballs” “butcher” “for sale.” We heard that the neightborhood newcomer was owned by the same guy who runs “Lil’ Frankies,” which we love, and “Supper” in the East Village, and our interest grew. But it took us until weeks after the restaurant actually opened to spot the small, glowing orange script on the front door that read, simply, “Sauce.” Oh. Right!
So we planned a date, and one Thursday night, had a thoroughly enjoyable evening at Sauce on Rivington Street. Despite being closely jammed next to other couples in a row of two-tops, we were able to focus on each other, and the food, which proved to be the restaurant’s main draw. Sauce has mainly small plates, sort of an Italian spin on “tapas,” so we started with their signature meatballs, which were reminiscent of my grandmother’s and melted in your mouth. We moved on to the raw escarole, apple, and ricotta salata salad, speckled with castlevetrano olives and pine nuts, and despite our trepidation over the raw escarole, devoured ever bite of the well balanced dish.
A small bowl of handmade butternut squash tortelloni in a rich brown butter sage sauce (my favorite) along side a plate of rustic, braised grass-fed pork and beef with a caramelized pear polenta, and I knew there was no going back. We had found a true neighborhood gem; one that was well-priced, casual yet trendy, and struck a balance of excitement with its open kitchen, but comfort with its rich dishes. After four plates and much bread, we were full but not bursting, so we opted to order one more dish.
The stuffed pepper.
I’d jealously observed some other diners enjoying this small, gratined creation, and had no hesitation in ordering it. When it arrived at our table, the breadcrumbs crispy and browned, the cheesy oozing as our forks cut into it, the excitement built. And from the first bite to the last, it did not disappoint.
I’ve had plenty of stuffed peppers before – from homemade Italian, to the more Eastern European chopped-meat-and-rice variety, to even those obnoxious Stouffer’s frozen ones (thanks, college). But never had I had one loaded with chewy, dense farro and sweet, fennel-laced sausage. So rich! So creamy! Such complex flavors! I knew as we walked out of Sauce that night I would have to recreate this at home.
And so, I did. My rendition, I’ll admit, is perhaps slightly cheesier than Sauce’s – I opted for more mozzarella than breadcrumbs on top, to give it more of a cheesy pizza-type topping. But the filling is that same sweet, tomato-based farro and sausage medley that makes Sauce’s stuffed pepper so unique. As I made these Friday night, I literally was jumping up and down with excitement (and trust me, I got teased for that), because I so rarely cook this richly for no reason, and because I could tell it would be oh, so worth it.
And it was. You’ve gotta try this. That is all.
Farro & Sausage Stuffed Peppers – makes 6 portions
Inspired by Sauce Restaurant
- 1 cup of uncooked farro or spelt berries
- 2.5 cups of chicken broth
- 3 green peppers, cut in half from stem to base, with seeds and gills removed
- 8 ounces of ground sweet Italian pork sausage
- 1/2 a medium onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- 8 ounces of plain canned tomato sauce
- 6 ounces of water
- 1 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp dried basil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 ounces part skim mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons of Italian breadcrumbs
1. To start, cook farro by combining the 1 cup of uncooked farro with chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for about 50 minutes or until farro is tender, but retains its chew.
2. Remove seeds and membranes from peppers and rinse well. Fill a large pot about with an inch or so of water and top with a steamer. Bring water to a simmer, add peppers and cover. Steam for about 10 minutes or until tender-crisp. Alternatively, you can boil water and cook peppers in boiling water for 10 minutes.
3. Place the olive oil, sausage and onions in a large skillet. Cook over medium high heat until the onions are tender and the sausage is brown. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomato sauce, water, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, and basil; bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes
4. Meanwhile, preheat your oven on the Broil setting.
5. Once the sausage mixture has simmered for 10 minutes or reduced to a sauce consistency, add the cooked farro, half of the shredded mozzarella cheese, and half of the parmesan. Stir well until the cheese has melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon sausage-farro mixture into the steamed peppers.
6. Top each pepper with a bit of the remaining shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, and breadcrumbs. Place in the oven and broil until the top of each pepper is bubbling and golden, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.