Using sausages when making a pasta sauce is a great way to add depth and flavour to the sauce and cut down on cooking time too. My most recent recipe creation came about because I had one too many broccoli heads in the fridge; so my sausage, broccoli and spinach pasta was born. I used some delicious Italian sausages for this which were flavoured with plenty of herbs and a little fennel. The spinach was added as an afterthought but actually I really liked the earthiness it brought to the dish.
The food in Italy was everything I wanted it to be and Tuscany in particular was filled with incredible locations to eat amazing food. We went to a restaurant in Montepulciano on our first night in Tuscany; it was in an old wine cellar and the food was sensational. I ordered the Tuscan Sausage Ragu and along with a glass of local red wine and Italian hospitality it was such a memorable meal. I wanted to try and recreate the flavours, if not the ambiance, at home and my version of this sausage ragu has been through a few different variations until I’ve reached the recipe below. It’s not exactly the same but it’s wonderfully delicious in its own right.
I won’t lie to you. This is not a dish that’s light on calories. But my word it is worth every one of them. My fennel and sausage ragu is exactly what the doctor ordered for mid-February. It’s full of good, hearty ingredients and it can’t fail to cheer you up from the inside out on a chilly evening. This dish is all about the sausages; the better the sausages you can get your hands on, the better the finished dish. Head to your local farmers’ market, butcher or farm shop to get hold of something spicy and Italian, they may be a little more expensive but trust me, you won’t regret it.
I often get left with a collection of fresh herbs. I don’t have a freezer so can’t freeze them for future use and even if they come in a pot, they always seem to die on me. This recipe is a great one for using up almost any fresh herbs you have hanging around (except maybe mint, keep that for the gin). As if this recipe wasn’t useful enough already it also contains super easy meatballs, made from sausages, for minimum fuss and maximum taste.
You will need (for four):
- 4 large herby sausages
- 350g tagliatelle (you can use any other pasta)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 small garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped, most of the seeds removed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Small handful fresh basil and parsley, large stalks removed, roughly chopped
- Oil for cooking
- Salt and pepper
Get a large frying pan onto a low heat and add a little oil. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook gently, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10-15 minutes.
I had a grand vision. A toad in the hole to rival all others; one that brought together two of my favourite parts of a Sunday roast in one delicious meal. Pigs in blankets meet Yorkshire puddings sounds pretty amazing to me and so sausage and bacon Toad in the Hole was born. One slight issue with the version that I made was that it was almost a total failure. However, I decided to post this anyway (I think these posts are just as useful as those that are successful) so that if you try it for yourself you can use my ideas at the end to have more success than I did.
You will need for 16 sausage rolls:
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small apple, peeled and finely chopped
80g cooked and peeled chestnuts, finely chopped
400g good quality sausages
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
Butter or oil for frying
Salt and pepper
1 pack readymade and rolled puff pastry
Milk or egg for brushing
Melt a large knob of butter in a large frying pan on a medium heat. Add the onion, apple and sage and fry for 5-6 minutes or until softened.
Add the chestnuts, salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes longer. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
You will need (for two):
- 4 cumberland burgers
- 2 eggs
- 2 thick slices of mild cheddar cheese
- 2 muffins
I was lucky to be able to get these cumberland burgers from the farmers’ market and without them it wouldn’t have been the same. I reckon you could make cumberland burgers if you can’t get them by squeezing the sausage meat out of some nice sausages and making burger shapes.
Start by frying the burgers until brown on the outside and cooked through. Meanwhile get another pan on the heat to fry the egg in. I fried my egg inside an upside down pastry cutter so it was the same size as the muffin. Maybe a bit unnecessary but I didn’t want odd shaped egg white hanging out of my muffin; it would have ruined the effect! When the egg is almost ready and the yolk still gooey get the muffins toasting.
To kick the picnic off to a good start I made some spiced cider. The reason for this was twofold; it’s a marriage made in heaven when mixed with cinnamon and I thought if my guests drunk a little cider they might get their cider jacket on and forget it’s cold.
When the BBQ is good and hot, put the cider into a saucepan and add a few cloves, a stick of cinnamon and some star anise. Keep on the heat until lovely and warm and then pour into cups and warm up your hands and your insides.
Originally I was just going to put a few caramelised onions in with the sausage meat but then I started thinking of other flavours; rosemary and fennel to start. With these new found thoughts I made a batch of eight sausage rolls, two of each of the following flavours; caramelised onion, herbs, fennel and olive. I think a nice spicy tomato chutney would have been brilliant too.
First of all make the caramelised onions. I used a whole onion, fried gently in butter for 20 minutes until soft and starting to brown then added sugar, salt and pepper. They were wonderfully sticky. While the onions are cooking; crush some fennel seeds, chop a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, parsley and chives and finely chop a few olives.
The sausages I had for this were some lovely, local chipolatas from a fantastic butcher. My butcher not only knows everything there is to know about meat, he knows a fair few things about vegetables. I heeded his advice about cooking the spring greens and they turned out brilliantly – see below.
Jerusalem artichokes aren’t very big and to make the most of them I needed a helping hand from the potato. In total you need 450g finely sliced and peeled artichokes and potatoes. You don’t have to peel the artichokes if you give them a good scrub but I did. They have a tendency to go brown very quickly once peeled so speed is of the essence here.
Layer the finely sliced potatoes and artichokes in a baking dish, seasoning between each layer. Mix together 120ml cream and 180ml milk and pour this over. Place in an oven at 170C for an hour and twenty minutes.