Have you ever been so intimidated to try making a certain thing in the kitchen that you put it off forever and a day. Then you finally work up the courage to try making it and are stunned to find it ridiculously easy? Such was the story with me and sausage a few years ago. I had made all sorts of food that makes people pause -cheesecakes, bread, homemade thises and thats- but I had always been just a bit scared of making sausage. I chalk this up to the time I spent in my teen and early adult years as a vegetarian. I had this little inferiority complex about my meat cooking skills.
Then one day, we came into a windfall of pork shoulder and decided I didn’t have much to lose since I had so very much pork lying around. I ground a couple of pounds of pork, added what I figured I liked best in sausage -fennel, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt, and black pepper- mixed it up with my hands, rolled it into little meatballs and fried them in a pan before building a marinara sauce around them. Holy wah.
To say that all my sausage making fears were wiped away with one succulent little pan full of saucy, moist, garlicky, spicy, browned-to-perfection-then-simmered meatballs is putting it mildly. The homemade sausage was superior in every single way from texture to flavour. It was perfect. In fact, I was so bucked up by my success that I made fresh sausage and meals from said sausage five nights in a row.
Then, although I was not nearly tired of the sausage, I was definitely tired of washing the grinder and all its little parts, and thus had an epiphany. They call it bulk sausage for a reason; I will make much and freeze some.
And the freezing? I had a trick there, too… I weighed two and a half pounds of sausage into gallon freezer bags, squeezed out as much air as I possibly could and gently pressed the sausage so that it filled the bag all the way to the corners while flattening it. Then I pressed the handle of a long wooden spoon down the center of the bag and twice more perpendicular to that first impression.
The reason I did this was two-fold. First, it would freeze faster and neater; flat bags stack up more efficiently in the freezer than wadded up bulky ones. Second, I could easily break off a square or two of the sausage without using the entire two and a half pounds. Two squares would give me between one and one and a half pounds of sausage which was just perfect for browning and scattering over pizzas or adding to pasta sauce. SCORE! (Ahem. Get it?)
Those first sausage experiments led me to many more. (See here and here for examples that I’ve posted before!) but nothing has matched the versatility and sheer usefulness of having a freezer full of bulk Italian sausage. So. Darned. Good.
Whaddya do with a freezer full beyond adding to pasta sauce or putting on pizza? Well, how about one of our favourite fast weeknight meals? Broccoli Sausage Pasta. This is one that pleases my crowd (even though I admit I have to pull some of the browned sausage from the pan before adding the broccoli to keep the No-Green-Things Contingent from revolting and BEING revolting at the table.) and feeds them for a song. You can use either fresh or frozen broccoli crowns in the dish, whichever you can procure most easily and the hearty dish is done in a flash.
Now here’s the thing. Where I live, pork shoulder is far cheaper per pound than purchased Italian sausage and it is marginally cheaper per pound than pre-ground pork. Since I prefer to grind my own, I stick with the pork shoulders. If you don’t have a grinder or food processor, you can definitely still make this using pre-ground pork. You’ll still be blown away by how wonderful it tastes!
I re-upped my Italian sausage stores this weekend while my kids were out enjoying all the snow that fell. I know it has nothing to do with food, but you have to see what my thirteen year old guy did with his time. Methinks he has had cabin fever…
When all the chilled and pink-cheeked boys came barreling in the door, I had a pan full of Broccoli Sausage Pasta ready to go. There were happy faces and full bellies that evening.
What would YOU do with a freezer full of Italian sausage?