When I was a kid, my room was a fire hazard. An obstacle course. A disability claim waiting to happen. A pig sty, so my parents said. I was always creating something—well not something, but some things. Not much has changed. For better or worse, my brain seems to have been crossed with that of a hummingbird. Oh look a flower, oh look, another flower! Another, whee! Clean your room, they would say. I would try. I really would, but then I’d pick up a long lost object that I had been missing for a long time. Before I knew it, I was elbows deep in a masterpiece. When mom came up to check on my progress, I’d already be creating my next mess.
This post is dedicated to all the messies out there. Sure, we’re fully functional adults now, but that doesn’t mean it’s always pretty. For all you who are shocked and surprised, Oh dear, how dreadful! We thought her house was as tidy as those pictures she always posts! , I’m sorry to disillusion you. My house explodes every time I create something. As I stand back to admire my creation, it takes a few moments before “Holy cow, who made such a mess?!? enters my brain. It takes a whole lot of messy to make pretty.
Through the years, my messes have evolved. And so, we arrive at Sloppy Jens. They’re just as messy as the one-note ones you had as a kid, but built from clean, flavorful ingredients. When I was making these, I was so seduced by the smell of sautéed fennel, onion and garlic that I didn’t notice the ragtag village of ingredients that had taken up residence on the counters. The perfect kshhh sound of the deglazing vermouth and the aromatic puff of steam that rose from the pan completely distracted me from the mounting tangle of camera equipment, reflector boards and produce scraps. When I popped open a quart of last summer’s canned garden tomatoes and slow simmered the sauce with fresh oregano from the garden, it was all over. Mise en place was a cause lost to another recipe, on another day.
Messy counters mean good things to come. If you stop by my house unannounced, you probably won’t marvel at the unscathed majesty of my abode, but chances are, you’ll leave full and happy!
Vegetarian Sloppy Jens
These messy little sandwiches are an Italian, vegetarian spin on a childhood favorite, and most definitely require a fork and knife! This would make a good hearty meatless sauce over pasta as well.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped, greens reserved
- 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
- 3 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
- 12 ounces frozen veggie crumbles (I like Quorn brand)
- 1 12-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes (or about 6 cups home canned)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- Salt to taste
- crushed red pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (more or less to taste)
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- Microgreens, spinach, or arugula for topping
- Buns (sprouted grain, gluten-free, or your favorite)
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or saucepan. Add the onion, fennel and celery, and sauté until soft but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the vermouth, and scrape the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Allow most of the liquid to evaporate, about one minute. Add the veggie crumbles and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add the rinsed beans, tomatoes, oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, salt and crushed red pepper. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with more salt if needed.
Toast the buns in the toaster, or on a baking sheet in an oven under the broiler. They will toast in about 30 seconds in the broiler, so keep a close eye on them! If you like both sides toasted, bake them directly on the oven rack in a 350˚ oven for a few minutes.
Generously spoon the filling onto the buns, and top with greens, if desired.