Sweet Italian Sausages with Braised White Beans and Kale

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Last month, Joe and I spent a week in Puglia, Italy, the region on the heel of Italy’s “boot.” We ate countless bowls of seafood pasta, almost a whole wheel of the local, firm ricotta, and tried so many varieties of pasticiotto, Puglia’s famous cream-filled cakes, that I went through serious withdrawal when we got home. But for me, one of the most memorable things we ate on the trip was actually in Rome, where we spent a weekend before flying home.

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At Armando Al Pantheon, a restaurant a stone’s throw from the Pantheon that serves traditional Roman cuisine, we ordered the special of the day: braised white beans with sausages. (Along with lots of other things, as it was our last weekend in Italy). Even after all the burrata and cacio e pepe we ate, there was something about this dish in particular I found so satisfying and comforting.

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It was incredibly simple- white beans braised with tomatoes and herbs and served with roasted sausages- but it had so much flavor. It was the kind of thing I could see myself eating fall and winter long, with a big glass of wine and some crusty bread to mop it all up. I couldn’t wait to play around with this idea at home to see if I could come up with my own version.

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One thing I knew from the start is that I wanted to try using canned beans. Cooking the beans from scratch would be more authentic, but there’s no way I am ever going to remember to soak beans overnight. It’s just not happening. I also wanted the dish to be quick, easy, and able to be made last-minute on a weeknight.

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This recipe calls for browning the sausages in a Dutch oven, and then finishing them in the oven. I use the some of fat from the sausage to cook the onions and garlic, which I braise along with the beans, Tuscan kale (my own sneaky addition of something fresh and green), tomatoes, chicken stock, white wine and a big sprig of rosemary. If you want to go lighter, you can make this with chicken or turkey sausage. Just be sure if you’re using chicken sausage that you find a butcher that sells them uncooked. You don’t want the precooked, flavored chicken sausages for this recipe.

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This is the dinner to make when you feel like winding down and stirring something simple and comforting after a long day. The recipe calls for a half cup of white wine, so you might as well just finish the bottle, right?

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Sweet Italian Sausage with Braised White Beans and Kale


Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausages
  • 1 Vidalia onion, cut in half through the stem and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 small garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 (15.5-ounce cans) cannellini beans, such as Goya, drained and rinsed
  • 3 cups chopped Tuscan kale, lightly packed (about 1 small bunch), see note
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken stock, such as College Inn
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly ground Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • rustic country bread, for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the sausages and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally to brown them evenly. Transfer to a sheet pan and roast for 10-15 minutes, depending of the size of the sausages, until cooked through and no longer pink inside. Set aside.

Meanwhile, drain any excess fat from the pot, leaving only a thin coating of oil on the bottom. (Or, if the pot looks dry, add a splash of olive oil.) Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onions are browned and translucent. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the beans, kale, tomatoes, chicken stock, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and cook at a full simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Discard the rosemary sprig and any large pieces of garlic. Using the back of a wooden spoon, press of some of the beans against the side of the pot to lightly mash them. Do this about 4 or 5 times until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper, stir to combine, and then place the cooked sausages on top of the beans. Simmer for 3 more minutes, until the sausages are warmed through.

To serve, spoon some of the beans into the bottom of a shallow bowl or deep plate. Top with a sausage and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve hot with bread on the side.

Note: To remove kale leaves from the stems, lay the leaves flat on a cutting board and cut down both sides of the center rib, discarding the rib.


Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto

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This may be the last weekend of the official summer season in the Hamptons, but as far as I’m concerned, summer isn’t over until the corn and tomatoes are gone and pumpkin mania takes over. September is a particularly magical month in the Hamptons, because for a few weeks, the weather seems to be absolutely perfect every day, and there are no packed beaches or traffic jams to accompany it. It’s hands-down my favorite month of year here.  So, in honor of the winding down of the insanity that is the Hamptons in August,  and the warm weeks ahead, I wanted to share my all-time favorite late-summer dinner: Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto.

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What is sweet corn pesto, you ask? Let me explain. It’s a sauce that made the same way as traditional basil pesto, but with a few major differences. Instead of basil and pine nuts, I sauté fresh corn with some smashed garlic and blend it all together with Parmesan and olive oil to make a sauce that’s creamy, subtly sweet and savory.

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I love this pasta for so many reasons. It is a unique and heavenly way to use these superstar summer veggies, and a dish that is as impressive as it is simple. The pasta warms the tomatoes just enough to bring out their sweetness, and the panko crumbs toasted with red pepper flakes add just little bit of heat and crunch to each bite. I love having lot of different textures in the same dish, and this recipe has that nailed.

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And for me, this recipe also means slowing down and getting back in the kitchen after months of grilling and throwing together simple sides and salads. With sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and basil, this recipe is as summery as it gets, but it’s also a hearty and comforting dinner -perfect for early September nights with the first discernible chill in the air. Make this over the long weekend if it’s getting cool where you are, and serve the pasta in big bowls with red wine. I promise you’ll be happy you did.

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Spaghetti with Sweet Corn Pesto

Ingredients

 extra virgin olive oil
3 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 6 ears of corn)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup panko (Japanese bread flakes)
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound spaghetti
2 pints cherry tomatoes, cut in half through the stem
½ cup fresh basil leaves, packed

Directions

In a large (12-inch) sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the corn, the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the corn is tender.

Remove ½ cup of the corn and set aside. Transfer the rest of the corn and garlic to the bowl of a food processor (or powerful blender such as a Vitamix) and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the spicy bread crumbs. Using a paper towel, wipe out the sauté pan you used to cook the corn, and heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the panko, crushed red pepper flakes and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring very often, for 3-5 minutes, until the panko is golden brown. Remove to a small bowl to cool.

Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper to the corn and garlic and process until coarsely pureed. With the food processor running, add 3 tablespoons olive oil and process until smooth. Add the Parmesan and pulse until combined.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the directions on the box. While the pasta cooks, wipe out the sauté pan again. Transfer the corn “pesto”  to the pan, add 1/4 cup of pasta water and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring until smooth.

When the pasta is finished cooking, use tongs to transfer it to the sauté pan (do not drain!) and toss it with the sauce. Add the cherry tomatoes and reserved corn and toss again. Sprinkle a thin layer of panko crumbs over the pasta, tear the basil leaves into pieces, and scatter half of them over the pasta.  Serve immediately with remaining panko and basil on the side.