BY JOSH MCAULIFFE – thetimes-tribune.com
Paul Cimino has a penchant for producing tasty pepper dishes.
Ask anyone who’s ever tried his Sausage Stuffed Jalapenos, an instantly addictive treat that has earned plenty of devotees through the years.
The recipe is this week’s featured entry for Local Flavor: Recipes We Love contest, earning Mr. Cimino a $100 gift card from Ray’s ShurSave Supermarkets, which has locations in Old Forge, Waymart, Factoryville and Montrose.
A resident of the Bull’s Head section of North Scranton, Mr. Cimino has been churning out Sausage Stuffed Jalapeños by the dozens for about 25 years. The recipe came out of “Pepper Night,” a weekly get-together for Mr. Cimino and a few of his buddies.
“We get together and tell tall tales, have a couple beers, put something on the grill,” Mr. Cimino said.
And, of course, eat peppers, including Mr. Cimino’s famous marinated cherry peppers stuffed with prosciutto and sharp provolone cheese.
Somewhere along the way, Mr. Cimino came up with the idea for Sausage Stuffed Jalapeños. They were an immediate hit with the Pepper Night crew, and before long he also was making them for parties and holidays.
Every year, on the Saturday before Easter, Mr. Cimino makes the peppers for the annual “Break the Fast” party at Dunmore’s San Cataldo Club.
“There’s trays of these peppers flying around there,” Mr. Cimino said. “The guys always look forward to them.”
Through trial and error, Mr. Cimino has developed a pepper preparation that works well for him.
First, he splits the jalapeños in half, then cleans them out using a teaspoon he’s specially fashioned for the task.
“The cleaner you get them, the less heat there is,” he said.
Then, he takes the sausage out of its casings — he uses both sweet and hot sausage from Ray’s — and puts it in a skillet over medium heat.
Once the sausage is browned, Mr. Cimino puts it in a food processor with cream cheese and cheddar cheese, then processes it until it takes on the consistency of chunky peanut butter.
He then stuffs the sausage in the halved jalapeños and puts them in the oven at 350 F, cooking until the peppers are semi-wilted and the sausage browns slightly on top.
The batch Mr. Cimino produced on a recent afternoon were devoured in minutes. Quite simply, the peppers and stuffing make for an outstanding combination, so much so that they can be eaten at a potato chip-like rate.
Unlike the jalapeños, Mr. Cimino grows the cherry
peppers in his garden. He’s gone through as many as 40 quarts of the marinated stuffed cherry peppers per year, such is the demand among family and friends.
“We have people who fight over them,” Mr. Cimino said, adding with a laugh, “I clean a hell of a lot of peppers.”
“Everyone keeps saying to him, ‘You should sell these,’” said Mr. Cimino’s wife, Diane.
Besides the cherry peppers, Mr. Cimino has other specialties that reflect his Italian lineage, like his homemade limoncello and coffee-flavored sambuca.
His sausage and peppers are so good that when he used to make them for North Scranton Vikings pee-wee football games (his sons, P.J., 21, and Nick, 18, were players at the time) the volunteers at the stand would keep the Crock-Pot in the back for themselves.
“He could have his own recipe book,” Mrs. Cimino said. “He sees a recipe, and he says, ‘Let’s try this.’ And then he’ll tweak it.”
He makes it his own. And, above all, he makes it really well.
Contact the writer: email@example.com, @jmcauliffeTT on Twitter
Sausage Stuffed Jalapeños
1 pound hot sausage
1 pound sweet sausage
4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
12-16 jalapeño peppers
Halve and clean the jalapeños, then set aside.
Take the sausage out of its casings and place in a large skillet over medium heat. Continue to break up the sausage while cooking until it’s almost brown. Do not cook through. Drain oil and water from sausage.
In half to 1-pound batches, process the sausage in a food processor with cream cheese and cheddar cheese, processing until the mixture gets to the consistency of chunky peanut butter.
Stuff halved peppers with sausage mixture and place on a flat pan coated with olive oil.
Cook at 350 F until the peppers become semi-wilted and the sausage browns lightly on top.
Try this dish with a light red, such as pinot noir or barbera.
— DAVID FALCHEK