Good Morning, boys and girls! Today’s recipe is called clean out the freezer. I was digging around in there the other day, looking for inspiration to go with the latest batch of recipes. I found 2 pieces of Polish sausage, a 4 ounce length of andouille kielbasa, and countless gourmet hot dogs. My initial goal was to use the CSA fennel in a more creative way than just grilling or roasting, and those random sausages became key players. I opted for the Polish and andouille sausages, and added 2 smoked brats from our refrigerator to the medley (calm down, purists, it turns out fine). This recipe isn’t in the pile, because it is still intact in the pages of the March 2016 issue of Food Network Magazine.
Sausage and Bean Stew
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound hot and/or sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 15 .5 ounce can navy beans (do not drain)
1 15 ounce can cherry tomatoes
1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat; add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon.
2. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, fennel, onion, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 tablespoon thyme and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, 15 minutes.
3.Preheat the broiler. Combine the panko with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon thyme and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; set aside. Return the sausage to the skillet along with the beans and their liquid, the tomatoes and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and gently simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
4. Sprinkle the panko mixture evenly over the stew and broil until golden, about 4 minutes.
So we’ve already discussed my substitutions on the sausages (note, mine were already all cooked, but I did brown them beyond 5 minutes because I love the caramelization). I opted for baby carrots because of a clearance deal discovered on a Woodman’s outing last Wednesday. We’re making every effort to up our veggie intake around here, so while I usually say 4 baby carrots equals a regular carrot, today I used about a half pound of baby carrots, which I cut into cute diagonal pieces.
I wish fennel was easier for me to use without it being a big production, because I love the way it smells when you chop it up. If you aren’t familiar with using it (except for the seeds you see on pizza or in sausage or stuffing breads), the bulb has the texture something between a celery stalk and cabbage, and once manipulated, releases this lovely licorice smell. My dad and I used to fight over the black jelly beans, so any occasion I have to play with anise or the basil family takes me back to those days (my dad can’t have Vitamin K anymore, so the black jelly beans are all mine now).
Today’s recipe also had me stripping fresh thyme from the garden. I put everything in the skillet as directed (well, I actually added my garlic a little after the onions and fennel so it wouldn’t scorch). As you may know, we’re mostly eschewing gluten here for a time, so I skipped the panko step altogether. Also, who buys cherry tomatoes in a can?! I used fresh! We didn’t have navy beans in the house, so I used pinto beans (it seemed the most neutral of the beans in the pantry).
Once I added the beans and tomatoes to the pan, I let it simmer a long time (20-30 minutes). I wanted those carrots tender, and I wanted the tomatoes to burst and release all their juices (I probably should have halved them, but lazy). The result was a lovely thick liquid that was sweet and savory from all these flavors. Once the sausage went back in the pot the end result was heavenly.
Verdict: for a relatively minimal amount of prep, this hands-off dish is definitely worth another go. You could experiment with different beans and sausage profiles–the smoked brats were the least successful here. For a healthier version you could use chicken or turkey sausage, or go meatless with soy crumbles or tempeh. From the tomatoes which didn’t pop during cooking, I loved the burst of juice as I bit into each one (a sensation I would have hated just a few years ago– texture issues). I might wilt some thinly sliced kale in here during the last 5-10 minutes for some color and texture–it seems like the right thing to do. I honestly didn’t miss the panko. I’m sure it adds some crispiness and a little punch of herbs, but the dish is seriously fine without it. This will be a great hearty staple once cooler weather comes. I’m looking forward to it already.