September skillet suppers: sausage and veggies
The calendar may not say autumn quite yet, but the air is crisp, nights are cold and a few leaves are showing hints of red. We’re definitely heading into fall. It’s a busy time of harvest for those who have gardens. The season calls for cozy, comforting meals that are also fast, easy and use up all that bountiful fresh produce.
Welcome the skillet. Skillets are the answer to the midweek dinner dilemma because they make quick, one-dish meals that take minimal effort to put together. Just a few ingredients – sausage and veggies, maybe a sauce – and it all cooks together with little fuss. Eat it with bread or cook pasta or a grain (but that will require another pan), and you will have a delicious meal! One skillet makes enough for two, three or four people, depending on appetites.
Welcome veggies! It’s peak harvest season and there is little the farmers’ market doesn’t have. Peppers, onions, zucchini and many other types of squash, fresh green and wax beans, hardy greens like kale and collards, and European or Oriental cabbages, all combine well with fresh or cured sausage to make delicious September meals.
Fresh veggies have lots of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are low in calories. With all these vegetables at their peak of freshness and flavor, it is easy to exceed the government’s ‘5 a day’ recommendations.
Welcome sausage. Fresh sausage is easy to cook with, so it’s wonderfully convenient. It cooks quickly in a skillet, even when not completely defrosted. You can put it in a dry skillet to render the fat first; that way, no oil is needed for the dish. It comes seasoned with herbs and garlic – so you won’t need to add lots of spices to your dish. It will fill your home with a delicious aroma as it sizzles in the pan.
Italian sausage is flavored with fennel, anise, garlic, basil and oregano. The main difference between sweet and hot is the amount of pepper added. The main herbs in breakfast sausage are sage and thyme; but cloves, nutmeg, marjoram and/or rosemary may also be added. Spices vary from one butcher to the next. Of course, you can experiment at home by mixing ground pork with salt, a little sugar, and whichever seasonings suit your fancy. Fresh Italian sausage is usually sold raw, in cylindrical links, to be grilled, fried or boiled.
Our English word ‘sausage’ comes from the Latin salsus, which means salted. In Italy, salsiccia refers to fresh sausage while salame refers to cured; there are many varieties of both, depending on the seasonings used. Most Americans use “sausage” to refer to raw seasoned minced meat that must be cooked, but sausage can also be cured or smoked; examples of this are Spanish chorizo, Italian salami and Polish kielbasa.
Most sausage is 15% to 25% saturated fat. Because of its high fat content, we think of sausage as one of the foods we should avoid. But when you combine it with lots of veggies, like peppers, cabbage, squash or green beans, it can be a healthy meal. Because it’s packed with flavor, you don’t need much – a quarter pound is more than ample for a meal for two or three people. And remember, you don’t need to add fat – just render the fat in the sausage. So go heavy on the veggies and light on the sausage.
Sausage is versatile. Sausage with peppers and onions is an American tradition – and colorful peppers and onions are plentiful at the farmers’ market now. But there is no need to limit yourself! Sausage fits well with greens like kale, collards, cabbage, turnips or even radish tops. And it is wonderful with squash or fresh summer beans.
1/2 pound sweet sausage (like Italian)
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
Potatoes (2 cups diced, or 2 cups small baby potatoes)
1 medium or 2 small carrots
handful green beans (about 2 cups)
1/2 small cabbage
1 summer squash, such as zucchini or patty-pan
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1 Tablespoon flour
1/2 cup Cheddar cheese
Break sausage into large skillet and cook on low to render fat about 5 minutes. Peel and chop the onion and add. Slice mushrooms and add. Cover and cook sausage with onions and mushrooms on low 5 minutes. Add potatoes, carrots, beans, and cabbage. Sprinkle with salt and cook on low, stirring,5 – 10 minutes or so. Add the squash and cook 2-5 minutes more, until everything is tender.
In a small saucepan blend milk with some of the vegetable liquid from the pan and flour, whisking rapidly over low heat, until blended and smooth. Add cheese and cook, whisking or stirring, until thickened. Stir into veggie skillet. Serve with a salad tossed salad of fresh greens. Serves 3.
Greek-Style Squash and Sausage Skillet
1/ 4 – 1/2 lb fresh breakfast or Italian sausage
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
3 medium summer squash (about 6 cups, diced) (or equal amount fresh beans, or combination)
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried0
1 Tablespoon fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried0
1 cup olives
1/2 cup feta cheese
Place sausage in skillet and render fat over low heat. Brown about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up pieces with a fork.
Peel and dice the onion; add to the skillet, cover, and continue cooking and stirring 4 – 6 minutes more. Peel and mince the garlic, add.
Rinse the zucchini, chop off ends and dice. Add to the skillet; cook 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. If needed, moisten with a tablespoon or two of broth, tomato juice or water.
Wash and dice tomatoes; add, along with the herbs and cook 5 – 10 minutes longer. (You may also use 1 can diced tomatoes). Slice olives and add, along with feta cheese; cook, stirring, 2 – 3 minutes until cheese melts.
Serve over pasta, with a tossed salad of fresh greens.
Serves 2 – 4.