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Spicy Stewed Sausage with Fennel

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Panini Girl posted a recipe for stewed sausage with fennel a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been eyeing it in my inbox ever since. She found the April Bloomfield recipe in the January issue of Food & Wine, in a feature about women chefs. This simple dish is full of flavor and easy to make. It’s ideal for a dinner party but if you make it for a smaller group the leftovers will last for days and only get better. I chose to make it for a group of six that Miriam and I hosted last week. As the recipe suggests, we served it over cheesy polenta, which Miriam had made. It was the perfect starch to soak up the spicy sauce.

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I did make a few adjustments to make it more saucy and kick up the spice, but I may have made it too spicy! I couldn’t find the chiles that the recipe calls for so I grabbed a few small orange ones, but I think they were way too hot – especially since I left the seeds in. Oops! Good thing most of the dinner guests like spicy food; there was one self-proclaimed spicy food wimp, but he was able to eat a sweet sausage with very little sauce after his wife taste-tested it for him. So cute.

Stewed Sausage with Fennel (serves 8)

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 sweet Italian sausages
  • 5 hot Italian sausages
  • 2 fennel bulbs—trimmed, each bulb cut into 8 wedges, fronds chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 x 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed with your hands, juices reserved
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2-3 chiles – quartered with seeds left in if you want it more spicy, otherwise leave them whole

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Heat half of the olive oil in a large pot over a medium-high flame. Place the sweet sausages in the pot and sear on all sides for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate, then add the rest of the olive oil to the pot and sear the hot sausages, then transfer to the plate with the other sausages.

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Next, add the fennel and sauté over medium heat until golden – about five minutes. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and salt and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. Then add tomatoes, wine and chiles and stir to combine. Fold the sausages into the sauce and cook covered for 15 minutes over a low flame. Then uncover and continue to cook for another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a serving dish and top with chopped fennel fonds; serve with polenta.

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Like I said, the sauce was pretty darn spicy but I still loved it – as long as I didn’t accidentally eat some chile. I has two portions of leftovers, which I ate with 1/2 cup of cooked farro to soak up the sauce. I think that when I made this again I will definitely adjust the spice of the chiles, but still do a mix of spicy and sweet sausages. I also want to try the less saucy version (only one can of tomatoes) at some point. But the best part of the recipe is definitely the fennel. I had no idea how delicious it was when cooked!

Pair this dish with a fruitful red wine with a bit of spice, such as a Washington Cabernet, an Alexander Valley Zinfandel or a Chianti – something that will compliment the acidity of the tomatoes but add some softness to the palate. And if it’s too hot for you, take a shot of milk!

Amazeballs

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As you may have heard, “amazeballs” was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, along with “hangry”, “douchebagery” and my personal favorite, “totes”. I’ve been using the word amazeballs since I was a wee sorority girl, so I’m all for this addition of popular slang; especially when I can use such a word to describe a meal!

Last week Panini Girl posted a recipe for eggplant meatballs that she picked up from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which I will soon be getting a copy of. Panini Girl knows her stuff when it comes to Italian food, and as she writes in her post, she is very picky about meatballs. So I knew that if she liked it as much as she said she did, then the recipe had to be attempted by yours truly! And when I saw some beautiful, huge eggplants at the Sonoma Farmer’s market on Tuesday, I knew the cooking Gods were telling me something.

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Beautiful eggplant from the Sonoma Farmers Market

Setting up for my first dinner party!

Setting up for my first dinner party!

This past Friday presented the perfect opportunity when I hosted my very first Napa dinner party. In attendance were two coworkers, a vegetarian friend and her meat-eating boyfriend, and my upstairs neighbor. I knew it was a risky move to make something I had never made before that also required quite a bit of prep, but I was determined! I doubled the recipe because there were six of us, and I also made some farro, green beans, and a Greek salad. Needless to say, there was a bit too much food. But better to overserve than underserve!

Eggplant Meatballs aka Amazeballs (serves 8-10)

  • 2 large purple, shiny eggplants
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 x 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn, plus 2 TB fresh minced basil
  • 5 cups whole wheat bread crumbs
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 4 oz shredded Parmesan
  • 2 TB minced parsley
  • 1 cup flour for coating, or more as needed
  • vegetable oil, for frying

Preheat the oven to 350. Poke the eggplants all over with a fork, then place on a rimmed baking sheet and cook for one 60-75 minutes, or until inside is completely tender. Let cool for a few minutes.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it's ready.

The skins will be crinkly and brown when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, in a large pot (big enough to fit tomato sauce and all the meatballs) heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame. Add 3 cloves of garlic and crush with a wooden spoon, then sauté for about two minutes. Add onion and red pepper flakes and sauté for another two minutes, until onions begin to soften. Add tomatoes and their juice, salt and Italian seasoning and heat until the sauce begins to bubble. Then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

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Peel eggplant and discard skins. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix eggplant, bread crumbs, eggs, the rest of the garlic (minced), Parmesan, parsley, minced basil, salt and pepper. Form the mixture into golfball-sized balls and coat each in a thin layer of flour, then set onto a platter covered with wax paper.

Pour oil into a large, cast-iron skillet so that it’s about 1 inch deep. Heat over a medium-high flame, then test heat by adding a small piece of the eggplant mixture. If it sizzles, then the oil is hot enough. Using tongs, add half of the eggplant balls into the oil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until browned and crispy. Then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or plate lined with paper towel, and cook the next batch of eggplant balls.

amazeballs

fried amazeballs

Warm sauce over a medium flame, and add torn basil leaves. If too thick, add a bit of water and continue to cook. Once the sauce has reached a desired consistency, add the meatballs and cook for about 10 minutes over a medium-low flame. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve with a side of farro, pasta, or toasty bread – or just eat as is!

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These eggplant balls were a HUGE hit, even with the carnivores! The consistency was perfect, and they actually tasted a little bit like meat. They were very hearty and flavorful, and were just as good the next day. We had a wide selection of wine at the meal because several of us had brought bottles of mostly full Cabernet that were left over from various work tastings (one of the many industry perks). I also served a Seghesio Barbera that one of my coworkers brought, which paired nicely with the Italian flavors in the amazeballs.

Special thanks to Panini Girl for sharing this recipe with her readers, and an even bigger thanks to my friends who joined me for my first Napa Dinner Party! There will be many more to come 🙂

Chicken & Cab: Surprising Soulmates

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I am on vacation this week with my family in San Diego. Last week I shipped six bottles of wine to my Mema (who also lives in San Diego) to keep until we got here. I shipped a 2001 Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Etude Oakville Napa Valley Cabernet, 2006 Bianchi Pinot Noir, 2010 Saddleback Rose of Sangiovese, 2011 Navarro Eldezwicker and 2011 Bouchaine Pinot Gris. So far, on day three, we’ve drank three of them. The Edlezwicker makes a great beach wine, slightly sweet and very light. And the Pinot Gris was served as a pre-dinner wine last night, also light and fruity with a medium body.  The Corison, however, was served with family dinner with some very special people: MM (visiting from his new home in Orange County), Mema and Pop pop (my mother’s parents).

My mom cooked up a delicious meal of stuffed peppers, roasted asparagus, and braised chicken thighs with black olives. I also made a mixed green salad with ciabatta croutons, sunflower seeds, cherry tomatoes (from Pop pop’s garden), parmesan, lemon, and olive oil. She got the recipes for stuffed peppers and the chicken from Panini Girl, who also happens to be her best friend and my “god mother.”

My mother has made the chicken a few times before, and she originally learned the recipe on her trip to Lucca with Panini Girl. The key is to use bone-in thighs because the flavor is much better than boneless. It’s a delicious dish when made correctly, so just follow Panini Girl’s recipe. The stuffed peppers and asparagus made great sides, but it was the Corison that was surprisingly the best  match for the chicken.

I purchased this bottle a few weeks ago at the Corison winery in Napa Valley. After tasting several fantastic Cabernets (the wine Kathy Corison is known for) of different vintages and vineyards, I decided to splurge on the 2001 Napa Valley, knowing I would bring it to San Diego to share with my father. Because this chicken dish is so full of flavor, an aged Cab was actually the perfect pairing. The flavors of cassis, tobacco and black olives in the Corison perfectly complemented the flavor components in the chicken (especially the olives). I ended up drinking the majority of the bottle, but made sure that each person had a taste. I wish I had more!

I’m looking forward to tasting the other three wines that are left. Stay tuned for more pairings and tasting notes…

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