Food You Can Eat: Celebrity Sunday Matinee: Frank Sinatra’s Sausage and Peppers

When Frank was asked about this recipe he replied, "I did it my way." Har har. Get it???

This is not the Chairman of the Board's version, but I tell you how to make this, too. Seen here is when the boardwalk is too hot and crowded so you have retreated to your air-conditioned summer share to consume your sausage and peppers in peace.

If I attempted to do even a thumbnail bio of Frank Sinatra it would run to many pages, so I won’t. He was famous and very active in many spheres of American life throughout most of the 20th century, having been born in late 1915, achieving stardom at a young age, and dying in 1998. If you want all the dirt, pick up a copy of Kitty Kelley’s His Way: An Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra. It’s still in print. No sane person would have ever authorized something like this.

No, I’m going to focus on his fourth wife Barbara, who was married to him at the time of his death. Together they compiled The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook, one of my proudest possessions. 

Barb was born in 1927 in Bosworth, Missouri, to Charles Willis Blakeley and the delightfully named Irene Prunty Toppass. I bet nobody gave her any guff growing up. Barb became a model and a “showgirl,” which is an occupation that I don’t think exists anymore but was once a popular one. She was married briefly in the early 50s and had a son. Somehow she met and married Zeppo Marx in 1959, but how is somewhat obscure. Zeppo was 26 years her senior and was the handsome straight man (straight as in the subject of gags) of the Marx Brothers, but he left the act at the height of their fame and the Marx Brothers that most people remember are the trio of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. 

Like a lot of celebs Zeppo and Barb had a place in the Palm Springs area, theirs in Rancho Mirage, and their next-door neighbor was Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra. Sinatra at this point was divorced from Ava Gardner and the Rat Pack was in full swing. Vegas, Scotch, showgirls (as Barb once was), skinny ties, Kennedy in the White House, Swingin’ on a Star, sizzlin’, hot, ring-a-ding-ding VEGAS!

Barb and Zeppo and Frank were very close buddies, Barb and Frank perhaps more than buddies. Barb divorced Zeppo in 1973 and Frank was single again, having divorced Mia Farrow after a brief two-year marriage in 1968. And by the way, the Sinatra-Farrow marriage: when they got married Mia was 21 to Frank’s 51, and he had been married to Ava Gardner, so that must have been some relationship. Anyway, Barb and Frank married in 1976, America’s Bicentennial Year, and that’s the story behind that.

Now onto the Sausage and Peppers. A version of this is the perfect summer food, and happy Memorial Day to you all. This is more suitable for winter, so after it I’ll give you the summer version. I am grateful for @memeweaver for passing this along. The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook has five recipes from the Sinatras, three from Frank and two from Barb, but this is not one of them!

3  green bell peppers

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

1 lb. spicy Italian sausage

1⁄3 cup red wine

Preheat oven to 350.

Remove stems and seeds from the green peppers and cut into large chunks.

In an ovenproof baking dish that can also be used on top of the stove, sauté green peppers in the olive oil until they begin to soften.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove green peppers and set aside.

Brown sausage in the same dish, breaking up with a spoon.

When sausage is browned, add the red wine.

Cover with foil and bake about 40 minutes.

All well and good, and delish. But since you’re celebrating Memorial Day, do all of this except julienne (cut into strips) and sauté the green peppers (or a mix of green and red peppers) with some chopped onion, maybe one large one. Chop the onion so you get half-moon slivers. Set aside. Leave the sausage links whole or cut into disks, don’t crumble them, brown, add the wine, and keep going for a few minutes, not many, so the sausage is cooked through. A little charring is OK. If you are #blessed with a grill or a griddle you can prepare the ingredients that way, but either pre-marinate the sausage or don’t use wine at all. When you’re done, pile all this into thick hero rolls that you have split and toasted/grilled (thinner, baguette-y ones will dissolve and fall apart on you), wrap the heroes in foil, and consume while strolling a boardwalk looking for the arcade games and the rides. Remember, wait until at least one hour after eating before you go swimming.



    • When I subscribed to Vanity Fair, which would be roughly from late 1980s to about 2010, I think every issue had a story about a member of the Rat Pack, the Rat Pack as a group, or John or Jacqui Kennedy.

      I have a really simple recipe from Joey Bishop (the forgotten member of the Rat Pack) that’s just waiting for a Joey Bishop bio to complete it and make it CSM-worthy. With Joey Bishop, he who laughs least-noticed laughs last: he outlived them all and died in 2007 at 89.

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