Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Grains, Greens, and Other Good Things (Italian Sausage Casserole)

I love a recipe that's versatile. Here are your options for this one:
  1. A complete dinner
  2. A "light" lunch
  3. A knock-out side to beef or pork
  4. Vegetarian--just leave out the meat
As a side to grilled steak, this is a bomb and a must. If prepared as a complete dinner, use a flavorful Italian sausage. Next time I make this, I just may add some halved cherry tomatoes when I throw in the greens.

If you go the vegetarian route, I'd definitely suggest adding the tomatoes along with some rinsed and drained cannellini beans.

This recipe calls for "escarole" a tender green that is pleasantly bitter. If you can not find escarole, use collard greens or kale. You can also sub "chicory" or frizzy endive. Also mustard greens or arugula. I have not used any of them and, if I had to choose, I would probably use broccoli rabe. You want a green that isn't really "sweet." Of course, this is the kind of recipe in which a garden mix of greens would be wonderful.
  • 2 tablespoons of a good quality olive oil
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage (about 2 links) casing removed
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 4 ounces fresh (not frozen) spinach, rinsed and dried, coarsely shredded
  • 4 ounces escarole, rinsed and dried, coarsely shredded
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced, or pressed, garlic
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2-4 tablespoons dry, white wine (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano (start with less) or about 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped
  • 4 ounces medium-sized shell-shaped pasta, uncooked (I used orecchiette)
  • 1/2 cup uncooked, long-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup dried, quick-cooking barley
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
  • Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese (don't skip)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place chicken broth and oregano in a medium saucepan and heat just until boiling. Lower heat and keep at a simmer.

Heat a large skillet, 10-12 inches, over medium heat and add the sausage, breaking up clumps as it cooks (a pastry blender does it fast) and until it is no longer pink. Add the shallot and stir a few minutes. Now add the garlic and stir. Begin adding the spinach and escarole mixing from the bottom up as the greens wilt. It should take no more than 5 minutes. Don't overcook since it will also bake in the oven.

Using a 10-12 cup metal casserole with a lid, scatter the pasta on the bottom and cover with the sausage/greens mixture. Now cover with the the rice/barley mixture. Slowly pour in the reserved broth and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and cover. If adding the wine, do so just before covering and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired but suggested, and then bake in oven for 30 minutes or until pasta is done.

Serve with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.
Notes: This is adapted from I used Johnsonville medium Italian sausage. The original does not call for the shallot or wine. I drizzled on some olive oil because it was a really good one. This was done right on 30 minutes. Oregano can be strong in taste, so go easy. I used fresh that I had in the garden. This dish is characterized by its nutty, earthy character with the barley and escarole. Fresh mushrooms would be a nice addition, too.