I was recently introduced to an Australian with whom I had a number of interesting discussions (that is not meant as a joke). The first, an hour-long discussion of the age-old cricketing rivalry between England and his native land is of no concern here, but the second, a frank exchange of views about the quality of sausages to be found in the United States has rather more relevance to the subject matter of these here web pages. His view, that American sausages simply aren’t up to snuff compared to the quality and variety of those available in Australia – a country in which the mystery bag has achieved almost legendary status for its role in the great Aussie barbecue – is not one I share, even if there were no other examples of fine forcemeat here than the glorious boudin of Louisiana, although, in his defense, he was careful to exclude American-made Italian style sausages from this otherwise careless dismissal.
Two men arguing about the merits of their sausage could be opening line of a grubby joke, but in fact, it’s a highly meaningful topic. Pork sausage, as it’s widely-known, is the world’s greatest food. I can think of no other food stuff which provides a comparable level of variety and satisfaction. The range of flavorings to be added to the basic mixture of pork shoulder and fat is almost limitless and the unctuousness of pork seems to be the perfect canvas for sausage-makers around the world to demonstrate their flair. All of which means that unless one is sufficiently motivated, like my Antipodean chum, to make one’s own sausage from scratch, one can take one’s pick from the myriad sausages available to us these days.
However, if you’re either deliberately bloody-minded or just feel like gilding the lily, you can augment your local sausage-maker’s offerings with flavorings of your own, which is what I did. Taking inspiration, once again, from Maxine Clark’s “Flavors of Tuscany”, I embarked with six fennel-scented Italian “sweet” sausage, adding some hot pepper flakes, a finger-nail or so of sweet pimenton, a pinch each of fennel pollen and black pepper, plus a generous teaspoon of just-cracked fennel seeds to the sausage meat after extracting it from its casings. Between two moistened palms, I rolled myself some micro-meatballs so-seasoned, browned them off in olive oil and paired them with a risotto bianco, garnished generously with fennel seeds, and washed it all down with an unpretentious Chianti.
As a speedy weeknight meal, it had the twin virtues for the ambitious home-cook of being easy and delicious while making me feel like I’d embellished the store-bought ingredients rather more than I had, which together with the great potential for sausage-based school-boy puns almost justifies posting about it.
For the meatballs:
- 6 sweet Italian sausages
- 1 each of teaspoon red pepper flakes, cracked fennel seeds and black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon each of sweet pimenton (paprika) and fennel pollen (optional)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the risotto:
- 1 large onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup arborio or carnaroli rice
- 1.5 cups (approx) chicken stock
- kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- With a shark knife, slice open casings of sausages and turn them out into a bowl.
- Add red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, fennel pollen and black pepper, and a splash of water, before combining together with fingers.
- Moisten hands with water, roll cherry (or larger) sized meatballs in your palms. Reserve on a plate.
- In a saucepan on medium high, sweat onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add rice. Stir well.
- After no more than 2 minutes, add white wine. Stir well.
- Allow wine to reduce by at least half before adding 1/4 of your chicken stock. Stir well. Continue to add more stock when rice dries out until rice is al dente and slightly soupy.
- When rice is about half done, in a saute pan, heat olive oil to medium-high, and brown meatballs well on all sides. Depending on their size they will either be fully cooked or require ten or more minutes in the oven to cook through.
- When both meatballs and risotto is cooked, plate together, sprinkle with extra fennel seeds and a drizzle of some of your best olive oil.