Make it: Sardinian stew, sausage risotto and more

Sardinian cabbage stew (Courtesy of Lifewithmel.com)

Sardinian cabbage stew (Courtesy of Lifewithmel.com)

Rita DeMontis, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

Late winter, early spring reminds me of sausage season. Don't really know why except when I was young my parents made their own sausages around this time of year. Pork sausage and the secret ingredient was a large tumbler of dry red wine with six cloves of garlic minced into the liquid. Several hours later, the garlic was removed and the wine pored over the ground meat and hand-mixed before being fed into the sausage maker.

What are sausages? According to the Professional Charcuterie by John Kinsell and David Harvey, "sausages were developed for one primary reason — to preserve meat." Flavours and textures were refined in various ways through the ages, note the authors, "but extending the life of the meat was the most important motivation."

Today, what with modern refrigeration and such, there's no worry about preservation, but the love a good sausage for any meal of the day continues.

Sausage starts with chopped or ground fresh meat (any meat or combination) is then mixed with ingredients and curing agents, such as salt or nitrite compounds. The mixture is then stuffed into casings, and then used fresh, or dried in controlled environments. The curing period may be followed by smoking.

Casings may be natural (large and small intestines of slaughtered animals, even stomachs and bladders, depending on the filling) and there are man-made casings, too.

So great is interest in sausage making, many cooking schools, butchers and farms offer courses on how to make your own sausages. Of course, if you don't have time to make your own, any butcher offers a variety of types and flavours (perfect for the recipes listed below.)

Rita's Sardinian Stew

A variation of a traditional Sardinian stew normally made with fava beans and pigs' feet, this version is fast and versatile. The sweetness of the cabbage and chestnuts compliments the savoury goodness of the sausages and ribs.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 lb. (4 oz./126g) pork belly, roughly chopped in large chunks
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • Green tops of one fennel bulb, roughly chopped (save fennel bulb for other uses)
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) water
  • 3 links mild Italian sausage, sliced into chunks
  • 1 lb. (500g) pork ribs, sliced
  • 1 small head cabbage, roughly chopped into large chunks
  • Water
  • Salt/pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) ready-to-use chestnuts*

Directions:

In a large soup pot, saute chopped pork belly until golden -- do not brown fully. Add onion and saute for five minutes, turning often. Add garlic, fennel greens and 1/4 cup (60ml) water and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Add sausages and pork ribs and coat with mixture; simmer until meat is brown. Remove pot from stove and add cabbage. Fill soup pot with water to cover cabbage and return to stove. Salt and pepper, to taste.

Bring mixture to a boil, then drop heat to medium-low and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, or until cabbage is soft, and meat falls off bone. Add chestnuts and gently simmer additional 45 minutes. Mixture will have thickened. Serve with pita bread. Tastes better next day.

Serves 6-8.

*Purchase these fresh chestnuts in vacuum-sealed bags at grocery stores and specialty shops. Chestnuts are already pre-cooked and ready to use.

Sausage Risotto

Ingredients:

  • Sausages add a wonderful addition to this comforting risotto.
  • 3 Tbsp. (45ml) olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. (45ml) butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 beef sausages, casings removed
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) dry white wine
  • 1 cup (250ml) frozen peas, rinsed
  • 6 cups (1.5L) hot chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. (45ml) freshly chopped
  • parsley

Directions:

In a medium-size skillet, heat oil and butter. Saute chopped onion until translucent. Add sausages and fry until thoroughly cooked, about 5 minutes. Remove sausages from pan and set aside.

In same pan, add rice and coat thoroughly, scraping bottom until rice becomes translucent. Deglaze with wine. Heat until wine evaporates. Add peas and coat. Start adding hot chicken stock one ladle at a time, to cover rice. Stir until stock is evaporated before adding next ladle. Cooking time is approximately 18-20 minutes.

Add sausage and cook in risotto a few minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and parsley.

Serves 4.

Baked Polenta with Sausage & Mushrooms

Polenta is one of those ingredients that can be served creamy or cooked to a thickness that can then be grilled. This recipe is a hearty-baked casserole featuring creamy polenta layered with sausage, mushrooms and cheese. Recipe and photo courtesy of Italianfoodforever.com.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. (30ml) olive oil
  • 4 sausage links, casings removed and crumbled
  • 8 oz. (1/2 lb./250g) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 tsp. (2ml) each dried thyme and dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup (250ml) grated melting cheese (Fontina, Asiago, Scamorza)

Polenta:

  • 4 cups (1L) water
  • 1 1/4 cups (300ml) coarse cornmeal (polenta)
  • 3 Tbsp. (45ml) butter
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Place oil in a heavy skillet and brown sausage meat until no longer pink.

Add mushrooms, onion, and garlic, and cook over medium heat until ingredients are soft and golden brown. Season with thyme, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and set aside. Pour water into a medium pot and season with salt and pepper.

Whisk polenta as you pour it into water to prevent lumps, then bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly until thick. Be careful as large bubbles form and burst. Fold butter and cheese into polenta until completely mixed. Lightly greasy an ovenproof casserole and pour in half of polenta.

Scatter all but 3/4 cup (175ml) of sausage mushroom mixture over polenta. Scatter 3/4 cup (175ml) of cheese on top of sausage mixture, then cover with remaining polenta.

Top polenta with 1/2 of sausage mixture and remaining cheese, then bake for 25 minutes until golden and bubbly.

Serves 6.

Smoked Sausage Minestrone

Love the addition of sausage to this bracing soup that tastes better the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp. (30ml) olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 lb (225 g) smoked or Kielbasa sausage, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, trimmed and sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, fined chopped
  • 1/4 small savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp. (15ml) chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt, fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28 oz (828 ml) can diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) water (approx.)
  • 1 19 oz (562 ml) can kidney beans, rinsed and well-drained
  • 1 cup (250 ml) dried orzo pasta
  • Garnish: Parmesan cheese, olive oil and fresh chopped parsley

Directions:

In large Dutch oven, heat half of oil over medium high heat. Brown sausage pieces. Transfer to plate.

Add remaining oil with onions, leeks, carrots, celery and cook until onion is translucent and golden, about 8 minutes. Stir in cabbage, basil, parsley, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Cook one minute. Add diced tomatoes with their juices, scraping any brown bits from bottom of pan. Pour in water, adding extra if required to cover vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain simmer and cover for 15 minutes. Stir in reserved sausage (with any drippings), kidney beans and pasta and continue to cook until pasta is tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Serve in warmed soup bowls garnished with fresh shaved Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and fresh chopped parsley.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

One place that does offer classes is Thatcher Farms Butcher Shop and Bakery in Rockwood, Ont.,. They recommend the following steps should you be interested in making your own:

The 10 Best Sausage Making Tips:

1. When making sausages use very freshest and best ingredients you can find including freshly ground meats, spices and casings.

2. Make sure that you have all of ingredients, materials and equipment on hand before you begin. This will prevent having to stop and wash your hands to find something in middle of the process, thus eliminating cross contamination.

3. Ensure that all equipment and working surface areas are completely sanitized and clean before you begin.

4. Rinse, flush and soak casings in cold water to remove excess salt.

5. Grind meat using your preferred method: Coarse or fine grinding holes in grinding plates allow for various textures in finished product. At Thatcher Farms we prefer to grind once through fine plate and then mix in ingredients, such as spices and liquids thoroughly.

6. After all ingredients have been mixed in, you can fry a little piece of sausage meat to test flavouring and then adjust accordingly if necessary.

7. Tie end of casing in a knot to prevent any meat from leaking out as you begin stuffing process.

8. As you are stuffing sausage meat into the casings inspect sausages for any air bubbles. If you locate any air bubbles use a sharp knife and prick any that you may find.

9. Link or twist sausages into 3-5 inch pieces starting at tied end to make equal sausage portions.

10. Place linked sausages in fridge for a few hours, or even better over night if possible. This will help sausage to set up and bring all flavours together and to make texture of sausage firmer.

11. Cook sausages thoroughly until they reach 160F (70C) and enjoy! Freeze any unused portions after 3 days. Vacuum sealing sausages helps meat to last longer in freezer.

— Thatcher Farms Butcher Shop and Bakery


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