Pepper and Egg Sandwich

Pepper and Egg Sandwiches
Photograph courtesy Sublicious

Does anyone under 35 (or 45, or even under 55) remember Lent? Our generations of gratification probably don’t think of a pre-packaged Jenny Craig meal the same way our parents and grandparents viewed meatless meals in the six weeks prior to Easter.

These days, abstinence from the food we enjoy often means we’re trying to look good in a bathing suit. Lent, on the other hand, is supposed to be contemplative and its dietary limitations soul-strengthening. The cottage cheese and fruit plate or the tuna casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup— the so-called “Lenten lunch” often served in church basements after World War II, was usually a little frumpy.

UPDATE in April 2020: Lent aside, for anyone sheltering in place right now, pepper and egg sandwiches are the comfort-food we long for, retro school-day lunches at home with Nonna. If nothing else, they’re a reminder that there were meatless, guilt-free pleasures to be had before sushi and sashimi came ashore.

Italian-Americans have long enjoyed pepper and egg sandwiches on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. One suspects their appeal may have much to do with their simplicity—welcome after the excesses of Carnevale or Martedi Grasso. In Chicago’s Italian-American community, pepper and egg sandwiches once enlivened meatless Fridays throughout the entire Lenten period.

Not quite a fritatta, a pepper and egg sandwich is the combination of garlic, bell peppers, and onion, sautéed in olive oil until the peppers are wilted. Beaten eggs are added, and the whole mixture cooked until the eggs are done. The peppers and eggs are served inside a hearty loaf. Possible embellishments include either provolone or mozzarella and pale green pickled peperoncini, which add an acidic bite that contrasts with the sweetness of the fried bell peppers.

Since the 1950s, and possibly earlier, the “pepp ‘n egg” sandwich has been a popular lunch or snack. When I was a child, my Sicilian Methodist family spent summers on Long Island Sound in Connecticut, where we and other Italian-American families would pack picnic baskets full of pepper and egg sandwiches for an afternoon at the beach. As an adult, I encountered the sandwiches again in Rockport, Massachusetts, where I lived briefly among descendants of Calabrese, who favored them as picnic food. The photo above is a roadside diner near the New Jersey shore. No matter where they’ve turned up, no one has ever considered these meatless sandwiches the food of abstinence, especially not when they might be washed down with a cold beer or two.

Ingredients:

1 or 2 Tbs. Olive oil
1 Clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp Crushed red pepper flakes
1 Medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 Red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 Green bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 eggs, beaten
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 Loaf Italian bread (such as a bastone or a ciabatta)

Preparation:

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat then add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and sauté for a minute or two. Add the onion and peppers, regulating the heat so the onions don’t burn. Sauté until the peppers have softened.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the beaten eggs. Stir to combine with the onions and peppers and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggs are set.

Slice the bread lengthwise without cutting all the way through. When the eggs are done, gently slide them onto the bread to make a sandwich and cut the loaf into four portions.

Serves 2 – 4

12 thoughts on “Pepper and Egg Sandwich

  1. Grace

    I had forgotten how routine it was for my family to snack on highly peppered fried egg sandwiches, bell peppers or not. It was our go-to snack, as was a hunk of cheese with bread or fruit.

    (Eggs are not my favorite food, so these sandwiches dropped out of the menu in my own family.)

  2. Jackie

    Wow, never had this before but is sounds like a must-try! Will be at the stove whipping it up this weekend, thanks Skip.

  3. Marie

    I grew up on this sandwich and my kids in turn have grown up on this. I make it all throughout the year, great for lunch,and dinner. Funny,I actually did a post on this not to long ago. I always put some grated romano in my eggs before I pour them over the peppers! And of course a little giardiara on top of my sandwich!

  4. Steven

    I had these all the time as a kid. I’m from Bloomfield, N.J. and even though I’m not Italian, my mom made these sandwiches with fresh Italian rolls from a local bakery. Excellent!!!!!

  5. Jude

    I am well under 35 (I’m 26)and I don’t rememember my grandparents ever eating meat on any friday during the year(unless a special ocasion like a wedding or something).
    In fact, my nonna still has me and my fiance over for a fish dinner almost every Friday. Love her cod fish marinara with onions and black olives – delicious!
    I actually rarely eat meat on Friday out of force of habit (of course there are acceptions).
    Just out of curiosity – how did you guys become Methodists? I really don’t mean to pry – but I just can’t picture an italian house without about 25 pictures of the Blessed Mother, Saint Anthony, Padre Pio, and who ever else – I just lost a grat aunt – rest he rsoul – her bedroom looked like the gift shop at the Vatican!

    1. Skip Post author

      The glib answer—and the one I got most often from my uncles and grandparents—is that back in Sicily in around 1840, we were either intellectuals who quit the church, or horse thieves who got excommunicated.

      The most likely story is that we were taken in by Methodist missionaries who travelled in the region. This is supported by the fact that my grandfather and one great uncle attended the Mount Hermon School and Wesleyan University. At the time, they were both Methodist schools.

      I also have my grandparents’ wedding certificate indicating they were married by a Pastor Ortolani of the Italian Methodist Episcopal Church.

      Go figure…
      Skip Lombardi

  6. Jude

    You know, skip – come to think of it – i’ve heard of that church and believe there to have been one here in NJ years ago down my Camden.

    What part of Sicily u guyz from?

    I visited cousins over in Avellino a year ago and they told me a bunch of “evangelisti” are movin in.

    interesting.

    1. Skip Post author

      Well, first of all, we were hardly evangelistic. Nevertheless, we all dutifully trudged off to the First United Methodist Church of Middletown, Connecticut every Sunday until someone (my mother, e.g.) said we could sleep in on Sunday. That said, we’ve continued to support that church no matter where we’ve wound up.

      Anyway, my family were from a little town on the southeast coast of Sicily called Mellili. It’s midway between Catania and Siracusa. Today, I believe the population is about 12,000. In 1904, it was probably less than 200.

      Best regards,
      Skip Lombardi

  7. bill ferrara

    When I was living with my dad and his family in Brooklyn, my aunt would make it for me to take to school for lunch. All the Italian kids knew what I had by the oil stain on the outside of the paper bag she put the “cut rite wax paper” wrapped sandwich in.

  8. Brenda Vater

    Ahhhhhh—-Fried egg & pepper sandwiches! I grew up in a small town in Western Pa. where much of the population was Italian. When there were festivals, craft shows, or town gatherings—there were ALWAYS fried egg & pepper sandwiches! My mouth is watering just thinking of them! Funny how we all remember good food from the past. I believe I will go now & make myself a fried egg & pepper sandwich and savor its wonderful smell,taste & those memories!

  9. Judy C.

    In the late 60’s I went to lunch every Teusday with my Italian co-workers to Del Signore’s Restaurant in Glens Falls, NY for pepper and egg sandwiches on thick Italian bread (from Simione’s Bakery) and a big bowl of Tuesday’s special, Pasta Fagioli. Good memories! I make the sandwich for myself but it will NEVER taste like theirs.

  10. Arlene Botticelli-Cunningham

    I was brought up on pepper & egg sandwiches in Lyndhurst NJ. I have introduced my husband to that wonderful Italian sandwich along with many other authentic dishes since I moved to Tennessee 23 yrs ago. What wonderful memories of pasta fagolia, peppers & eggs, meatballs, braciola, and many others they have never heard of down here.

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