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.


Grilled Chicken Paillard with Winter Green Salad

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In case you haven’t wandered into a CVS or Rite Aid lately, let me tell you: Cupid’s big day is upon us. (All the good cards have been gone for weeks, sorry.)

While I love a swanky dinner date as much as the next girl, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, my ideal night is actually a delicious dinner for two cooked at home. Most restaurants have Valentine’s Day prix-fixe menus that are supposed to make you feel like you’re experiencing “romance” and “love” when really you’re just choosing between salmon and steak and being rushed through your chocolate cake so the next couple can sit down and have their romantic evening. At home, you can relax, go at your own pace, make whatever you feel like eating, and really enjoy each other’s company.

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But what to make? I’m thinking Grilled Chicken Paillard with Winter Green Salad. Inspired by a dish that I had with my valentine (hi Joe!) at an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, it’s simple and quick to make, but is still “fancy” and more importantly, delicious. The chicken is tender and well seasoned, and topped with a salad that’s bright, crunchy, and strikes the perfect balance between savory, sweet and bitter. You guessed it, this salad is a metaphor for love!

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I love the way the plate looks with a grilled chicken breast peeking out under a mountain of greens, walnuts, grapes and blue cheese. It’s restaurant-style presentation that’s so easy to recreate at home. AND, it’s the sort of dinner that leaves you with enough room for a decadent chocolate dessert.

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The only labor-intensive part of the recipe is pounding the chicken, which I do in a plastic bag to make cleanup easy. I discovered that while a meat mallet is technically the right the tool for the job, a bottle of wine works just as well.

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Whether you’re planning on spending Tuesday night with that certain special someone, getting drinks with friends, or staying in and watching The Holiday, Valentine’s Day is – at the very least- a great excuse to celebrate the love in our lives with a delicious dinner and several large glasses of wine. And that, I think, is something we can never do too often.

Grilled Chicken Paillard with Winter Green Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 ½ cups baby arugula, lightly packed (2 ounces)
  • ½ small head radicchio, cored and sliced very thinly
  • ½ cup walnut halves, toasted and chopped
  • 2/3 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoonsDijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup large-diced mild, creamy blue cheese, such as Blue D’Auvergne
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Place the chicken breasts into a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Using a meat mallet, a rolling pin, or a wine bottle, pound the chicken breasts through the plastic until they are 1/2 inch thick. (This takes a few minutes – be careful not to pound so hard you tear the meat.)
  2. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Pour marinade into the bag with the chicken, seal, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the arugula, radicchio, walnuts and grapes. In a small measuring cup (you can use the same one you used for the marinade) whisk together the sherry vinegar, mustard, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside.
  4. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat. Remove the chicken breasts from the bag, pat dry with paper towels, and grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, until there are dark grill marks on each side and the breasts are just cooked through. (Alternatively, you can cook the chicken in a large sauté pan: heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat and cook each breast for 3-5 minutes on each side, until evenly browned and cooked through.)
  5. Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to combine. Add the blue cheese and toss gently. To serve, place each chicken breast on a plate and top with a mound of salad. Serve immediately.