Friday, September 9, 2011
Fennel Sausages Roasted with Herbs & Cherry Tomatoes
It never ceases to amaze me how, towards the end of summer, my entire being seems to change course. I dream longingly of crisp mornings. I churn out baked goods at an irrational pace. I shop for corduroy. And most of all I hanker after richer flavors, ones that would never have appealed even a few weeks before. The market is filling with brassy, saturated colors, the flavors of harvest time, and unquestioningly my appetite follows suit.
This recipe - something I first had in the Arezzo province of Tuscany – is a perfect way to harness the more robust herbs and tomatoes of late summer. It offers up that jammy savor I’m suddenly craving, but with crops that are utterly of the moment.
The sausages in Tuscany tend to be bold, seasoned with garlic and plenty of the region’s wild fennel. Back in New York, I use the fennel sausages from Faicco’s Pork Store in the West Village for this dish. They’re sweet, flecked with earthy fennel seed, and are unfailingly fresh – one of the best deals in the city.
I like my sausages burnished brown, even crisp on the outside. If you prefer yours less well-done, remove them from the oven after 45 minutes and test to be sure they’re cooked through – they should be fine. These are lovely over some swiss chard or spinach that’s been sautéed in olive oil. The clean mineral quality of both leaves makes a pleasant note against the sticky, caramelized sausages and a twangy-sweet drizzle of aged balsamic added just before serving, but on nights when you’re in need of more sustenance, some white shell beans dressed in fruity olive oil are authentic and very good too. Drink with a Sangiovese to enjoy this as I did the first time. Last week I had it with a nice Ruffino, and the pairing was perfect.
12 sweet Italian sausages
2 cups ripe cherry, grape, or other small, sweet tomatoes
1 – 2 heads garlic, preferably rocambole, cloves separated but unpeeled
big handful fresh basil leaves
12 stems fresh thyme
1 tbsp fennel seeds
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C, gas mark 7)
Prick the sausages in a couple of places on both sides and place in a roasting pan (no need to separate if they’re still linked), with the tomatoes, separated garlic cloves, basil leaves, thyme stems, and fennel seeds. Drizzle generously with olive oil and a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper and then toss all the ingredients with your hands to combine. Rearrange in a single layer and roast on a rack in the upper third of the oven for 30 minutes. Turn the sausages over and then roast for another 30 minutes until the sausages are deeply golden and the garlic is soft inside its paper.
Serve hot over wilted greens and/or white beans with another drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or even better something more aged and syrupy.