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Spaghetti Nero with Pesto, Sausage, Shrimp

spaghetti nero

I’ve actually waited a long time to find a recipe I wanted to make with this spaghetti nero. It’s not that it’s ALL that hard to find, but you generally have to make a little effort to locate it, and even once you can get some at one store or another, it typically seems to disappear rather quickly (and often because it really doesn’t sell all that well, I’m guessing). That said, in the right recipe, it can be amazing. And that’s how this dish came to be.

FYI, if you’ve never had spaghetti nero, it’s made with squid ink in the pasta and basically, looks black as you might imagine. The squid ink adds a very subtle flavor, but not so much you’d really notice it, unless you were paying close attention.

The typical spaghetti nero recipe generally comes with a red (or possibly a white) sauce with shrimp, calamari and maybe some clams or mussels — essentially a seafood sauce. But I had some very good sausage I wanted to try, along with some good pesto, so this sauce kept the shrimp but otherwise, I decided to up the garlic and onions, add some mushrooms and used the sausage and pesto. The result was better than good and I can promise we’d have eaten twice what was on the plate, no kidding. It has just the perfect mix of flavors.

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Apple Maple Sausage

apple maple sausage

Every once in a while, one of my local grocery stores comes up with something really wonderful and that’s where the apple maple sausage comes into the picture. Don’t get me wrong. I love sausages of almost any stripe just about anytime I can get hold of them. But these sausages were special, even for a well made product. I bought them somewhat on a dare from my local grocer, but I’ve decided he can help me with sausages anytime he wants.

My first thought was, OK, these are going to be sweet and probably require someway to turn them down a notch. The truth was, they were just the opposite. You could taste the apples and maple syrup. They were definitely there. But the chicken and whatever else went into them seriously toned down the sweetness and instead gave it an interesting flavor that turned out to be none of the things that went into the sausage and somehow made it much better than I suspected.

And as it turns out, apple maple sausage is a relatively easy thing to find if you know where to look for them, And by all means, do that. Cooked with a little apples and some mushrooms, they’re a real delight.

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Sausage and Tortellini Soup

sausage and tortellini soup

A good sausage, a little beans and some very good cheesy tortellini are about as much as you could ask for an “Italian style” soup, one that sticks to your ribs and makes you want to go out and tackle the world. Alright fine. Maybe you don’t want to kick the world’s butt this morning, but it does fill you up and does kind of make you want to at least let the world know you’re alive. This sausage and tortellini soup does that, and more.

Better yet, this is another one of those soups that, depending on how you finish it off, you can have most of the soup made, add the tortellini at the end along with some spinach and you’re ready to go as soon as the tortellini is ready. Nice things about good soups is that they’re often flexible like that. You can get them close to finished and then unleash them at just the right second.

This soup uses some good tortellini made with three cheeses and a lovely mild Italian sausage. You can, of course use a hotter sausage and even add a few crushed red peppers to get the spice where you want it.

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New Chicken Sausage Gumbo

chicken sausage gumbo

Gumbo, or at least so I’ve heard, means whatever you have in the house. Well, not really. There are actually some fairly standard kinds of gumbo, and this chicken sausage gumbo is one of those you fairly frequently see in magazines or cookbooks.  It’s actually the second gumbo I’ve made here in the past year or so, but this one is just a little easier and requires a dark brown roux, so it’s basically, just a little different from the ones I posted back then.

Why do a gumbo now? Well, it’s about that time of the year when we get fairly long, sustained thunderstorms in the late afternoon and having a few ingredients in the house, a gumbo is just perfect. It takes a little while to make, but the outcome is just about as good as you can get with just a little bit of time. Then, there’s the rich — honestly something you’ll never forget — creamy texture that just kind of sticks with you.

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Sausage and Gnocchi Soup

Sausage and Gnocchi Soup

March is a great month for soups, if for no other reason than the weather is so unpredictable. A week or so ago we had a dusting of snow and the last few days have felt like early summer. A good soup, I think, sort of smooths out the temperature’s ups and downs. This sausage and gnocchi soup was inspired by something I spotted on another food blog somewhere, that used beer and brats and home-made gnocchi. My reaction to that was something along the lines of “Interesting, but this needs to be an Italian style soup.” And so I set to work.

The result was a rich tomato-vegetable broth full of the flavors imparted by the sausage, tomatoes, basil and oregano with contrasting textures of crisped sausage and soft potato gnocchi — sort of like a liquid pizza, in fact.

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Genuine Italian Festival Sausage Sandwich

Italian Hot Sausage Sandwich

Every summer, in just about every town of any size in the stretch of the Ohio River valley from Pittsburgh to, perhaps as far as Cincinnati, you could count on an Italian street festival materializing. In the little town where I grew up, you could count on it coming sometime in August, and it was a signal that summer would soon end and school would be starting soon. The photo below (which I “stole” from a friend still living there) gives you an idea what they’re like. The cornerstone of these festivals was (and apparently still is) the hot sausage sandwich.

italian festival

Italian Festival in the Ohio Valley

The hot sausage sandwich I knew as a kid, and can still find at a festival or Italian restaurant in towns up and down the river (actually throughout western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia) has no counterpart in Italy, as far as I can tell, though there are similar sausages in southern Italy and Sicily. The sausage is seasoned ground pork in natural casings with varying amounts of hot red pepper, fennel and occasionally basil in the mix. The best sausages come from an Italian butcher shop, and while I’ve occasionally had to settle for packaged grocery store varieties, those sausages don’t hold a candle to the real thing. I’ve read that the festival-style sausage sandwich originated in Pittsburgh and spread from there. It isn’t the only sausage sandwich. There are versions from Boston to Chicago, and I suspect in any community which had or has a sizable Italian immigrant population. In fact, it appears that the first American sausage made as it is today was created in 1895, in Pittsburgh, by a gentleman named G. Pasquinelli who founded the now defunct Italian Sausage Company. Can’t say that surprises me.

There are rules for the genuine festival sandwich, of course. Authentic hot Italian sausage links are the start. They must be grilled over charcoal (with no wood smoke). There must be green bell peppers and onions, also grilled (not fried, and certainly not sautéed — we’re talking Ohio Valley here, people. Nothing fancy if you want them to sell). And sometimes, if you were lucky, there would be sweet-hot red peppers. Serve that baby on a sausage-size roll made like a small Italian bread. The cardinal rule was/is, no tomato sauce, ever. Sometimes, you could get fresh tomatoes cut, salted and peppered on the side, but that was, essentially a salad. This sandwich is street food, meant for eating while you stroll through the festival in nice clothes (well nicer than everyday, anyway). You can’t have soggy rolls and dripping red sauce and expect parents to cough up a couple of bucks just to create a laundry disaster, right? 

That’s it. Simple, delicious and traditional. 

 

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Bangers and Mash

bangers and mash

For some reason, the grocery stores near me have decided to up their game. I’m not sure why this would be the case now, but over the past few months I’ve been seeing more variety in their offerings and better quality, as well. That’s especially been true for their butcher shops, where I’ve lately seen cuts of meat and other items that are a real step up from only a year ago. One of them, for example, has begun making sausage right in the store, and not just the standard sweet and hot Italian sausages, either. Which brings me to the subject of this post. On a recent shopping trip, I came across store made pork sausages labeled English “banger style.” Of course, that led me to think about that quintessential British concoction — bangers and mash.

Bangers and mash is the British equivalent of the American burger. It’s something every home cook can do — and does. It’s pub food, too. And in the so-called gastro pubs, it’s been given a multitude of upgrades and gourmet treatments. So consider this recipe a tribute to that tradition. It’s as authentic as I can make it, and recalls a meal I had a number of years ago in a British style pub (in Hong Kong, of all places). Add in a pint of stout and you’ve captured it pretty well.

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