Monday, November 17, 2014

Braised Sausages with Fennel & Olives

While watching an episode of 'Lidia's Italy' on the Food Network a few years ago, Lidia Bastianich made a humble dish of braised sausages with fennel and chopped green Cerignola olives. We were so intrigued with the rustic simplicity of the dish that we decided to make it that night, and have now served it many times since. Lidia's recipe for Salsicce con Finocchio e Olive calls for sweet Italian sausages, however I decided this time to choose an assortment of handmade sausages for variety and bought: Toulouse Sausages with Berkshire pork and herbes de Provence; Alsatian with pork, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon; Guinness with pork, Prince Edward Island beef and Guinness beer; and Sweet Italian with pork and fennel, all purchased from Sam and Ben Gundy at Toronto's St Lawrence Market. As we found out, fresh fennel is a great companion to sausage, and although it may seem that there's a lot in the recipe, the fennel reduces significantly as it cooks and becomes wonderfully sweet and tender. Served on its own or with a bowl of pasta, this dish celebrates the basic principles of Italian cooking — culinary simplicity and the use of the finest, freshest ingredients. A simple and delicious recipe, this dish is always greeted with relish whenever it's served — so as Lidia says: "Tutti a tavola a mangiare".

A selection of handmade sausages: Toulouse with pork and herbes de Provence; Alsatian with pork, sugar, cloves, nutmeg, coriander and cinnamon; Guinness with pork, beef and Guinness stout beer; and Sweet Italian with pork and fennel — each cut in half to fit better in the pan

Braised Sausages with Fennel & Olives
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy of Lidia Bastianich

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
12 sweet Italian sausages, or mixed assortment
1 cup dry white wine
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 tsp hot red chili flakes, or to taste 
1 cup large green olives, squashed to open them up to remove pits
4 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

Trim the stalks and tough bottoms off the fennel bulbs, and reserve the fronds for later use as garnish. Peel off the outer layer, then cut in half lengthwise and trim out the bits of stalk that go down into the bulb. Cut into 1-inch chunks and set aside. 

Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large sauté pan, big enough to hold all of the sausages, and set over medium-high heat. Lay in the sausages in the pan and cook for 5 minutes or more, rolling them over occasionally until nicely browned. Pour in the wine and boil until it's reduced by half. Remove the sausages to a platter and pour the remaining wine sauce over them.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the empty sauté pan. Toss in the garlic cloves and cook for a minute or so over medium heat until they're sizzling, but don't let them burn. Drop in the chili flakes in a hot spot for a few seconds, then scatter the squashed olives in the pan. Toss and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fennel chunks and stir. Season with 1/4 tsp salt, cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, tossing and stirring now and then until the fennel softens, shrinks, and begins to colour. Add a bit of water to the pan if the fennel remains hard and resistant to the bite.

When the fennel is cooked through, return the sausages and wine to the pan. Turn and tumble the meat and vegetables together, and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes, until everything is deeply caramelized and glazed. Adjust the seasoning to taste, garnish with the fennel fronds and serve immediately on a warmed platter on its own or with a side dish of Orzo with Parmesan & Basil.