Nothing warms the heart of a carnivore like a sizzling sausage sputtering and spattering in the frying pan. It fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma, and few people can withstand the anticipation of the meal to come. Think of the countless ways this little bundle of goodness can be served.
Sausage -- ground meat, herbs and vegetables, all gloriously stuffed into a casing that snaps with every bite -- has been around for a long time.
Germans are the kings of sausage-makers, being known for at least 40 different types. The Italians have about 20 kinds; the French a dozen; and the United States -- not including the recipes we have borrowed from others -- less than a handful of sausage types.
If you want a good German sausage, you have almost no choice but to order an import. Some of the higher-end grocery stores have a few good cured sausages, particularly the Italian sopressata and salamis, but choices are limited. There is, however, another good option. Some of the local grocery stores have house-made fresh sausages that are quite good. The ones most commonly seen are Cajun-style, Italian and green onion. All are good.
Lets skip to the chase and focus on how to cook a fresh sausage. If you just throw it on the grill, it will most-likely split open and all the juices will spill out and be lost forever. An easy fix is to simmer the sausage in beer, apple cider or even chicken stock, just to firm it up, then finish them on the grill. Problem solved!
SAUSAGE AND WHITE BEANS WITH PUMPKIN
1 cup dried Great Northern or Canella beans
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 pound smoked sausage
1 chopped onion
1 chopped bell pepper
4-6 cloves chopped garlic
1-2 cups cubed pumpkin (see Asian market)
Red pepper flakes
Soak the beans overnight in water. (If you must use canned beans; wash away the goop, and forgo the long cooking time.) Sauté the onion and bell pepper in oil for 5 minutes, remembering to use a pot large enough for all the ingredients. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Drain the beans, add them to the pot, along with 3 cups of stock and simmer over low heat until the beans are almost done. Add more liquid as needed. Drop the whole sausages into the pot and simmer until firm, then remove. This firms the sausages up so they won't
split open. Now season the beans aggressively. Next roughly chop the sausage and fry in hot oil until well browned. Remove and add to the beans, and continue to simmer. In the pan in which you sautéed the sausage, add the pumpkin, and over moderate heat, cook until browned, but not done. Add to the beans and simmer just until the pumpkin is tender. Do not overcook the pumpkin or it will fall apart. A good dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano makes this dish even more delicious.
The critical step in making a great sausage po-boy is selecting the right sausage. The store-made fresh sausages mentioned above are a great choice, so are some of the cured, smoked sausages.
1 pound fresh sausage, Italian style would be ideal
1 can locally made beer, try the one with a pecan base
1 crusty loaf of po-boy bread or a baguette
4-6 slices sharp cheddar or Gruyere
Optional grilled red or green bell peppers
Slowly simmer the sausage in beer until it is firm, it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. Remove and drain, then sauté in hot olive oil until well browned. Take your time and get it right. If you want to add a nice zing, cook 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic in the oil first, but remove them before they burn. If you want to go with the grilled peppers, blacken them over an open flame, then remove to a paper bag for 5 minutes. Peel under running water, then chop. Now build the po-boy by slicing the sausage, adding the peppers, topping with cheese and placing in a hot oven until the cheese is melted, and the bread is crisp. Serve at once.
SAUSAGE, RED SAUCE AND PASTA
One of the most delicious applications for a good sausage is in a long-cooked red sauce, served over pasta. It doesn't have to be too complicated, as the sausage adds a richness to the sauce like no other meat does.
1 pound linguini
1 pound Italian sausage
4 cups whole tomatoes and liquid
1 chopped red onion
1 chopped green bell pepper
4-6 cloves chopped garlic
Red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper, just a bit course
1 cup good red wine
Cook the pasta according to package directions, but remove 1 minute early, drain and set aside. Sauté sausage in a little oil until well browned, remove and set aside. Now sauté the onion and bell pepper in olive oil for 5 minutes. Season aggressively, add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the wine and reduce by one half, add the tomatoes and the sausage and simmer slowly for 1 hour. Taste and re-season as necessary. Add the drained pasta to the still-simmering sauce and cook until done, al dente, and not overcooked. All is lost if you cook the pasta until it is mushy. Proceed with caution. Now, using tongs, remove and plate the pasta, top with sauce and sausages and an unbelievable amount of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. You would never use pre grated, dried out Parmigiano-Reggiano, right? Serve with a glass of the same good red wine you cooked with and crusty locally made French bread.