This simple Sausage Sauce makes the best of Italian sausages, especially those with fennel. If you can’t find good Italian sausages like our Tuscan or Napoli make a pat of lean pork mince and mix it together with pinch of salt a few herbs and spices and wrap it in some clingfilm for a day or two before following the recipe below.
Pasta Carbonara is one of those magic 15-minute recipes that elevate pasta to a food of elegant simplicity whose sum is more than equal to the ingredients. I eschew the traditional combination of guanciale (cheek bacon) or pancetta (Italian dry cured streaky bacon) and inject excitement with my Viagra dei Poveri sausages so-called because they contain fresh chilli known colloquially as ‘Viagra for people’ in Southern Italy!
A Welsh Oggie is a plate sized Cornish pasty which hails from the valleys of South Wales - no doubt heritage of Alexander Cordell's 'Host of Rebecca' who moved from Cornwall as the tin ran out. What distinguishes a Welsh Oggie from a pasty is the use of butter or puff pastry with leeks instead of potato and, quite commonly, lamb or pork and leek sausages in the filling.
This Dublin casserole of sausages, bacon, onions and potatoes was a favoutite of Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver's Travels and dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. In Dublin itself Coddle is best known as a meal that can be prepared in a casserole or slo-cooked and simmered whilst you are out or for entertaining family.
Toad in the hole is probably the definitive comfort food to an Englishman as much as Pizza Napoli to a southern Italian or Ragu Bolognese to a northerner. All three of these dishes make it into the Gold Standard if children's cooking since "Mum knows best".
My all time food hero is the estimable Keith Floyd whose 'Floyd on France' series filled the University TV room like no other apart from 'Not the '9 O'Clock News' in the early '80s. Bottle in hand, Keith helped me to many a romantic conquest and is to blame for my rise from the ashes of the bank crash of 2008 as a food producer, street food award winner and lately sausage maker and butcher. For those who missed Keith in his heyday I recommend his alfresco essay on cassoulet from the pitch at Stade Toulousain before the Rugby World Cup. Respect!
When I worked in London I sometimes popped into Wagamama near Selfridges for a bowl of soup and noodles for lunch. Some years later I discovered their Wagamama cookbook and realised that those noodle dishes are not just thrown together but have a distinct method and the soup is made from miso paste - the Japanese seasoning made from fermented soyabeans, salt and koji fungus - which probably explains why the Japanese are so long lived. In this recipe I use my mild Toulouse or Beef & Sushi Ginger or Pork & Spring Onion sausages so not to compete with the miso. If you want a bit of excitement try hot mizuna leaves thrown in at the last minute so the veg is fresh and crisp.
The North/South divide is no greater than in Calabria which is home to cucina povera or ‘peasant cooking’ whose extended rythm is handmade and handpicked - the famed peperoncino chilies, flour and water pasta, ricotta and olive oil - all of which feature cheap common and fresh ingredients paired with preserves from the family ‘cantina’. Most famous of these is nduja (pronounced nnn- doo-jah) which is a spicy preserved Calabrian sausage-meets-salami made with up to 50% peperoncino peppers and the fattier parts of the pig in thick sausage skins then heavily smoked for a few days to make a very unique spicy paste with a lingering smokey flavour.
Gnocchetti are the traditional chunky seashell shaped pasta shells from Sardinia locally called Malloreddus. They are generally called gnocchetti (pronounced nnnyock -ett-ee) because they resemble potato gnocchi.
Gnocchetti are ideal for pasta salad and making sauces that cling since they have a deep rib on the outside and a deep cut underneath like a conch shell from cutting and shaping the pasta with a fork or a butter pat. This sauce is seasoned with pecorino and PDO accredited saffron which grows in the Medio Campidano region of the island and give the sauce disntinctive colour and fragrance.
Sicily is the orange basket of Italy. There are around 67,000 hectares of orange groves, 70 per cent of which grow blood oranges, during their January to May growing season. In the unique microclimate around Mount Etna in Catania, where the soil is a mixture of mineral-rich decomposed lava and limestone, the warm days and cool nights provide perfect conditions for growing Moro, Sanguinello and Tarocco blood oranges in a myriad of football pitch sized lemon groves. Sicily is also blessed with good butchers who usually make sausages with sage, cloves, thyme, fennel, garlic and cumin plus an ample supply of fresh plum and ox heart tomatoes which most families make into passata and store or cook fresh. Fresh and less-is-more are the watchwords of this Sicilian recipe.
Hunting is next to religion in northern Italy. If it’s not wild boar that excites it’s cervo or venison which you will often find in a comforting sauce served with thick ribbons of pappardelle pasta or pinci which are handmade twists like a seashell which is good for thick sauces to cling to.
Venison offers an alternative to other game since it goes well with fruit because it is so richly flavoured. Here we make venison sausages with a bit of pepper, garlic, mustard and ginger infused and red wine to flavour the meat for a few days before making the sauce.
Half soup and half sausage hotpot, this main course Winter bean and vegetable soup is served with pan-fried Italian sausages and grated Parmigiano. If you use English sausage be sure they are at least 90% meat and don’t contain rusk or bread, which holds the fat, otherwise you’ll get a soup that is thick and greasy. Don't be frightened of making more than you need since this recipe freezes well and makes a handy supper midweek or brunch for the whole family.
When Sara and I went to Sardinia we discovered fregola which are thick toasted balls of pasta a bit like Israeli couscous. Fregola makes a very good accompaniment to soupy seafood dishes or salads and it is a great storecupboard item since you only need 100g per person and a bit of fresh vegetables and stock or meat to make wholesome and interesting meal.
When I was little I always pestered my mum for Heinz baked beans with bread sausage in a tin. Now I'm older I still get the same guilty pleasure but with much better ingredients but it's still as child friendly and perfect when you've cold feet and you're waiting for the firework display on Bonfire Night. Leftovers can go in a soup and you can serve with baked potato or wedges with a splash of yoghurty dip so nothing goes to waste.
Sara made this comforting and very tasty zuppa one Sunday afternoon - it’s a sort of Panzanella (the famous Tuscan salad with torn bread) meets Ribollita (a hearty potage made with bread and vegetables) minus the bread so it’s great if you are coeliac or gluten intolerant. I seasoned my bowl with a grating of Grana Padano cheese but that’s a bit of a luxury since the meaty flavour of sausage and Winter cabbage is the signature of this dish.
One of our family favourites featuring our versatile Southern Italian Red Pepper Pesto which is unusual because it goes well with fish, chicken and pork. In a risotto you can change your second ingredient to anything from smoked fish to pork chop although simple risotto with just the pesto works just fine if you want a finer flavoured vegetarian option.
I first cooked this recipe on holiday in Tuscany after reading it in the Italian version of Hello! It says a bit about Italian priorities. Don't bother with English sausages unless you want a gloopy mush.
This is a very traditional sauce which comes from the town of Amatrice in the midlands of Lazio just south of Rome. It is an area which is famous for its excellent pork products such as sausages. My recipe is very typical of the area, a succulent, rich meat sauce with a hint of chilli.
Puglian style pork, fennel and Savoy cabbage casserole characterised by it's rustic simplcity and contrasting flavour. In Puglia stale bread would line the bowl to make it a more fulsome dinner for the shepherd or contadino.
In Italy vegetable courses are called contorni (cont-or-nee) and are accompaniments or separate dishes to complement or contrast with the main flavour. Contorni are usually dishes in themselves so think of your veg as a freestanding item so you will have more success if you think Italian (in other words, if it’s on one plate you should be making a stew). This recipe will work with almost any firm leaved veg which can be wrapped.
Spaghetti pie is a great recipe for children and Rugby players as it uses up leftover spaghetti Bolognese. It has a crispy spaghetti crust and a meaty filling topped with sticky mozzarella (or you can make my veggie version). You can chill the pie and cut it up and take it to work or for a picnic. Most importantly Torta Spaghetti has great street cred if your children take their own lunch to school.
In Italy a sausage is not the poor man’s steak made with bread and floor sweepings but a means of getting a well seasoned meat and herb combination to plate. Some of the finest sausages are those from Tuscany and Umbria heading up towards Norcia - the headquarters of Italian butchery. A Tuscan sausage has very little fat and will typically be 95-97% pork shoulder with a few herbs like fennel and garlic encased in a natural pork runner. In this recipe, good ingredients and simple presentation are the key and you will have a dish that would grace the finest restaurant.
Sara's simple sausage sauce makes the best of Italian sausages. If you can’t find good Italian sausages like ours make a pat of lean pork mince and mix it together with pinch of salt a few herbs and spices and wrap it in some clingfilm for a day or two before following the recipe below.
Risotto with sausage and borlotti has a beautiful creamy consistency with all the flavours of the fennel sausage. Borlotti beans to grow are availlable from Paolo at Seeds of Italy - dead easy to grow and you can say 'b**&^%cks' to Tesco.
The Bullboar is a beef steak & pork sausage made by Italian-speaking Swiss farmers in the Victoria goldfields in Australia since the 1850s. The recipe is now protected from extinction by a Slow Food Ark of Taste project (named after Noah’s Ark) because the ingredients cost and labour make it a truly artisan product. With red wine, allspice, cloves and cinnamon the aroma of bullboars is that of a meaty hot-cross bun. Traditionally bullboars would be served with lentils as below.
Both Sara and our daughters were away last week so I indulged myself in my two great loves - sausage and mushrooms - in a risotto washed down with a bottle of white Sicilian Grillo wine. A nice evening in!
Pilota were the men whom used to remove the husks of great piles of rice in the Po Valley. This recipe comes courtesy of Raffaello Seri from Lomdardia who visited one of our village Pizza Nights. Seeing our Italian sausages we immediately fell into conversation about the food of Lombardia and the sausages of Mantova. A variation “with a handle” is served in a pot with a grilled pork chop served bone end sticking up from the risotto so you can alternate bites of chop with a fork of risotto.