Once again, during this crisis, I tentatively prepared a New York Timesrecipe for a ragù that I had filed away but wasn’t quite sure would work out because of the quality of the main ingredient: sausage.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been using sausage from my local salumeria, but given our shelter-in-place restrictions, this was not a possibility. Thanks to the extraordinary kindness of some young neighbors, however, I was able to procure, among a load of other groceries, a log of bulk sausage from our local supermarket.
After numerous requests from my husband for stuffed cabbage, I set out to make the dish. The recipe is from a now cancelled series on the Cooking Channel that featured Laura Calder, a Canadian chef who focused on French cuisine. In fact, I had made this dish with some success about five years ago; however, last night’s attempt was an epic failure.
Some of the responsibility for my culinary mega flop is mine. Rather than buying the savoy cabbage called for by the recipe, I mistakenly purchased a Napa, or Chinese, cabbage since it was marked “Savoy” on the shelf.
Every so often, our local grocery store gives away something for free; sometimes it’s a protein bar; other times, a can of soup. The most recent giveaway was a kielbasa, which coincided serendipitously with the publication of a recipe for Hasselback Kielbasa on the New York Times “Cooking” website.
The site’s stunning photo of the dish, along with the above confluence of events, pulled me from my typical traditional stance in the kitchen to give this recipe a try. With so few ingredients involved, most of them, including the kielbasa, already on hand, there wasn’t too much at risk.
Perhaps my favorite season in New York City was fall. It always seemed that the city somehow sprung back to life from a lazy hot and humid summer slumber. The atmosphere grew more vibrant as leaves changed color and cooler temps set in. The fall harvest seemed to energize the Union Square Farmers Market.
Alas, we don’t have as dramatic a seasonal change here in San Diego, “where the climate must be perfect all the year.” So to compensate for this, I cook the fall dishes I used to make back in the city.
One of these is Mario Batali’s “Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Radicchio.” Made with sausage, radicchio, fennel, red onion, red wine and tomato sauce, its colors intimate fall foliage. On the palate, it delivers a kaleidoscope of flavors: sweet from the fennel, bitter from the radicchio, savory from the sausage, all balanced with a simple tomato sauce. (I use Marcella Hazan’s sauce made with five tablespoons of butter, an onion split in half, and Italian plum tomatoes with their juices.)
Batali’s recipe calls for mezzi rigatoni, and should you choose to make this dish, I strongly suggest using this pasta shape; it has the perfect size and weight for this rich sauce. Unfortunately, I had run out of them and substituted penne rigate, which were OK, but definitely not as good as the recommended rigatoni. Lack of availability also forced me to substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano for the recipe’s Asiago.
Batali’s recipe comes from his 2011 Simple Family Meals. Since I was cooking only for two, I pretty much halved the recipe’s amounts. However, you can find the original recipe, which serves 6 as a main course, here.
One final note: take your time with Step 10 of the recipe and so that the pasta is well coated with the sauce.
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, crumbled
½ tablespoon fennel seeds
½ tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
½ red onion, chopping into ¼-inch dice
½ fennel bulb, ribs and fronds discarded, bulb finely chopping
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 head radicchio, cored and finely chopped
½ cup dry red wine, such as Morellino di Scansano
1 cups basic tomato sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ pound mezzi rigatoni pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, for serving
1. In a heavy-bottomed 12-inch sauté pan, cook the sausage over high heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a plate.
3. Add the fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, onions, fennel, garlic, and radicchio to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are well browned, about 10 minutes.
4. Return the sausage to the pan, add the wine and the tomato sauce, and bring to a boil.
5. Lower the heat and simmer until the radicchio is very tender and the sauce as thickened, about 10 minutes.
6. Season well with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.
7. Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.
8. Drop the mezzi rigatoni into the water and cook for 1 minute less than the package instructions indicate. Just before the pasta is done, carefully ladle ½ of the cooking water into the sausage mixture.
9. Drain the pasta in a colander and add it to the sausage mixture.
10. Toss over medium heat for about 30 seconds, until the pasta is nicely coated.
11. Pour into a warmed serving bowl and serve immediately, with a bowl of grated Asiago on the side.
Although I enjoy serving on the board of my condo, it can at times throw me off my schedule for dinner. Such was the case last night. I had planned one dish and, owing to an emergency board meeting, had to substitute another that could be on the table at a reasonable hour for a weeknight.
Fortunately, we had some sausages on hand that were intended for another dish as well as some delicious seedless red grapes. This combination of ingredients brought to mind a dish I prepared a few years ago, but a quick internet search uncovered an easier alternative. Unlike the earlier recipe, which called for sautéing the ingredients, this approach called for roasting them. And I must admit that on a weeknight I prefer roasting as a cooking method because it makes for easier cleanup than sautéing.
The recipe I found comes from an Ina Garten episode on The Food Network in which she has chef, Johanne Killeen, from a favorite Italian restaurant, Al Forno in Providence RI, prepare the dish called simply: “Roasted Sausages and Grapes.”
I made a few changes to the original recipe, substituting 1 pound of Italian mild sausages for 3 pound mix of sweet and hot and halving the amount of grapes. I also added about a cup of chopped red onion and a couple of tablespoons of chopped sage to the grapes and sausage before roasting. Finally, rather than using the suggested focaccia as an accompaniment, I served a simple polenta.
1 pound Italian mild sausage
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups (approx. 1 pound) red seedless grapes, stems removed
4 tablespoons dry red wine, preferably Chianti
3 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
Polenta, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Parboil the sausages in water to cover for 8 minutes to rid them of excess fat.
3. Melt the butter in a large heatproof roasting pan, add the grapes, and toss to coat.
4. Over moderately high heat add the wine. Stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the wine has reduced by half.
5. Using tongs, transfer the parboiled sausages to the roasting pan and push them down in the grapes so the sausages will not brown too quickly.
6. Roast in the oven, turning the sausages once, until the grapes are soft and the sausages have browned, 20 to 25 minutes.
7. Place the roasting pan on top of the stove over a medium-high heat and add the balsamic vinegar. Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the roasting pan, and allow the vinegar and juices to reduce until they are thick and syrupy. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausages and grapes to a serving platter.
8. Pour the sauce over the sausages and grapes and serve immediately, accompanied with fresh bread.
This is not a Polish joke: What do you do when your husband asks you to make kielbasa? You make it. After five years of marriage, my better half, who is of Polish heritage, asked me for the first time in our relationship to recreate a dish his mother often made: Kielbasa with Sauerkraut.
I admit I was somewhat intimidated to attempt to replicate a childhood memory. But this was the first time he’s ever requested an eastern European meal.
When I agreed, he informed me, most enthusiastically, that he had already found a recipe that reminded him of the original. It was from a 1995 issue of “Bon Appetit” that had been published on the “Epicurious” website.
Although it takes almost two and a half hours to prepare, most of the dish’s cooking time is devoted to a long braise in the oven and the prep is relatively simple. I departed from the recipe only slightly by using chopped onions as opposed to sliced and substituting fennel seeds for the caraway. For the wine, I opted for a California Dry Riesling.
My husband’s only other request was to serve the dish with a boiled potato to which I added butter and dill.
Given that the evening weather was beautiful, we dined on the terrace just as the sun was setting. Maybe it was the lighting, but as I caught a glimpse of my husband’s face as he took his fist taste, he appeared to be aglow with contentment.
6 smoked bacon slices, cut into 2-inch-wide strips
1 large onion, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
1 2-pound jar sauerkraut, rinsed, drained well
2 cups dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
4 juniper berries, crushed, or 1 tablespoon gin
1 1/2 pounds kielbasa sausage, cut into 3-inch lengths
1- Preheat oven to 300°F. Place bacon, onion and carrot in heavy large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté until onion is tender but not brown, about 5 minutes.
2- Squeeze as much liquid as possible from sauerkraut. (I placed my drained sauerkraut in a clean dish towel and twisted until the sauerkraut gave up most of its liquid.) Add sauerkraut to Dutch oven. Add wine, stock, caraway seeds and juniper berries.
3- Bring to simmer. Cover tightly, place in oven and bake 1 hour.
4. Add kielbasa to Dutch oven, pushing into sauerkraut.
6. Cover and bake 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring frequently.)
About a year ago while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, I saw a recipe on the Rachael Ray show for sausages roasted with butternut squash and pears. Well, after finding the recipe online, I finally got around to making it the other night for a small get together with friends. The colors and aroma of the dish echoed fall.
I made a few changes to the original recipe that included adding shallots and extending the cooking time. I also substituted a package of cut and peeled squash for the recipe’s large butternut squash.
Roasted Sausages with Butternut Squash and Pears (adapted from the Rachael Ray Show)
3 red pears, cored, cut into quarters
1 20-ounce package cut and peeled butternut quash
2 large shallots peeled and quartered
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Salt and pepper
5 sprigs thyme
8 sweet Italian sausages (about 2.5 pounds)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Place pears, butternut squash and onions into a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with some salt and pepper. Scatter the sprigs of thyme over top of the vegetables. Place the sausages on top of the vegetables.
Put the roasting pan into the oven and cook for about 35 minutes or until sausages are golden brown. (The original recipe called for 25 minutes of cooking, but I found that both the sausages and the vegetables needed more time to roast. I also turned the sausages after 30 minutes to makes sure they were browned evenly.)
Drizzle the sausages and roasted pears, squash, and shallots with some balsamic vinegar.
Sausage and Peppers has been a family favorite for years. My aunt would often prepare this for lunch on Saturdays, after we returned from shopping in our neighborhood’s Italian section on Avenue U in Brooklyn. She would serve them with bread still warm from the baker and a selection of cheeses from her favorite salumeria. These days, I often make it for an easy weeknight supper.
Like most cooks, my aunt would fry up the sausages and then use their fat to fry the onions and peppers. This is the way I too have prepared this dish—that is, until last night.
Although I enjoy this Italian staple, I hate cleaning up the greasy mess it makes all over the stove. I thought there must be an easier alternative using my oven. I did a Google search and found several recipes that looked promising. I combined a few of them and came up with the one below.
Once again, I hadn’t planned on writing about this dish, but it turned out so well that I had to share it with you. I don’t think I’ll ever use the stove top again to make it.
Roasted Sausage, Peppers, and Onions
4 Italian sweet sausages
4 bell peppers (2 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange) cored, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 large onion, thinly sliced or chopped
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, quartered for serving with the sausage (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Spray a large roasting pan with olive-oil spray.
Place the sausages, peppers, onion, garlic, in the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss, making sure the sausages are in a single layer.
Roast the sausages and vegetables for about an hour. About mid-way through, turn the sausages to ensure even browning.
When the sausages and vegetables are browned to your liking, remove from the oven and serve. Squeeze some lemon on the sausage for added flavor.
A request from my better half for chicken scarpariello, which by the way I had never had, led me to search my cookbooks for a recipe. None of them, however, contained one that met his expectations. Consequently, I expanded my (now our) search to the Internet, where we finally found a recipe by Anne Burrell on the Food Network website that came close to meeting all the requirements.
This Italian-American dish appears to have originated in New York City. Its name, scarpariello, or shoemaker style, has been attributed to its being “cobbled” together from several ingredients that play a key role in it: chicken, sausage, and cherry peppers.
Although a good number of versions call for cutting up the chicken into small pieces to better absorb the sauce, I chose to use whole thighs, which allow for a slightly longer cooking time to reduce the sauce without drying out the chicken. For the same reason, I also cut my sausages and peppers slightly larger than called for by the original recipe. Finally, rather than using hot cherry peppers, I opted for peppers that were labeled “hot & sweet” in order to reduce the heat and keep older digestive systems happy.
Chicken Scarpariello (Adapted from Anne Burrell on the Food Network Website)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound fennel sausage, cut into 1.5 inch pieces
3-pounds skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cup hot and sweet cherry peppers halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 cup pepper juice, from the jar
1 cup chicken stock, plus a little more if needed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Coat a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pan with olive oil and bring the pan to a medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown well.
Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Trim any excess skin and fat from the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper and add to the pan that the sausage was browned in. Brown the chicken well.
Once the chicken is brown on all sides, remove it from the pan and reserve.
Drain the oil from the pan and return it to the heat. Coat the pan lightly with new olive oil, add the onions, and season with salt. Cook the onions over medium heat until they are translucent and very aromatic, 6 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the wine to the pan and reduce it by half. While the wine is reducing, scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
Return the sausage and chicken, along with any accumulated juices, to the pan and add the cherry peppers, cherry-pepper juice, chicken stock, and oregano.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer, partially covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for 5 to 10 more minutes; add more chicken stock if the sauce has reduced too much.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed. The finished dish should be slightly soupy, spicy, and delicious.
Early on Sunday evening, we usually sit down with a cocktail and some appetizers to watch the string of cooking shows on PBS. They’re a welcome calm alternative to the increasingly competition-driven line-up on the Food Network.
One of our favorite shows is America’s Test Kitchen, which is both entertaining and instructive. A recent episode of the series included a relatively simple weeknight recipe for sweet Italian sausages with seedless red grapes and balsamic vinegar that we both thought had to be on our table before the end of the week. We found the combination of ingredients intriguing and came away with a better all-purpose method for browning and cooking sausage. I’m including a link to the show’s website, which, if you’re not a registered user, requires you to sign up. Registration is free. It’s worth the time and this page has an informative article on cooking sausages.