More often than not, our weekday dinners are determined by an item in the fridge that’s near its “use-by” date. Such was the case on Monday, when my husband announced that we had a pound of Italian sausage that needed to be used or tossed. When I suggested making my go-to sausage and roasted peppers, he said: “Again? Why not try something new and use it for the blog.”
While making something new might not pose a problem for those of you who have a nearby market or a car, for those of us who don’t, it often involves seeing what’s on hand and then searching for a suitable recipe. After discovering a package of green lentils in the pantry, I turned to my cookbook collection, where I found the perfect match, “Lentil and Sausage Casseroles,” in a volume from the Good Cook series by Time-Warner: Dried Beans and Grains.
One of my husband’s favorite pasta dishes is orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, which he’s been asking for since the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve made it quite often and have even written about it here. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to procure any broccoli rabe. When he recently suggested using regular broccoli, I shrugged and said it wouldn’t be the same and told him we would have to wait. He replied silently with a sulk.
A few days after this conversation, I opened the fridge to find a bag of pre-washed broccoli florets and a package of bulk sausage that had been resurrected from the bottom of our freezer. When I asked my better half how these items seemed to have appeared so suddenly, he replied, once again silently, with a self-satisfied smile.
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.