Updated March 2011.
I didn't grow up in a sausage house, because link-style sausages need little girdles to keep them in shape.
We weren't strangers to girdles in my rather large-hipped family, but we were strangers to pigs.
Those sausage girdles — the casings — often start life as pigs' intestines and, as my mother grew up in a kosher home, we never had pork anything in our house. (Well, not entirely true. We did eat some pig. We ate Chinese food. And my dad snuck a can of SPAM every now and then.)
Sausages, sometimes thought of as "parts" food stuffed with ground-up bits and pieces that didn't make the cut, actually came into their own in the Middle Ages as a way to prepare salted meat.
Today, butcheries and catalogs sell gourmet sausages made from salmon, lamb, and the freshest herbs and seasonings. Chicken sausage, both sweet and savory, has become a fixture in my freezer. Even in our Rhode Island village, the grocery store stocks a variety of high-quality, all-natural chicken sausages.
Chicken sausage is super-lean, and the best brands are packed with flavor to compensate for lower fat content. You can use savory sausages for a less traditional breakfast dish, and sweet sausages with pasta or stuffing. At this time of year, you can make fabulous, last-minute chicken sausage kabobs, by alternating chunks of sausage with chunks of pineapple, red pepper, and red onion. Brush everything with a quick teriyaki marinade, and thread onto flat bamboo skewers. Cook on the grill, or under the broiler.
By reading the ingredient labels, I've discovered several pork-free brands. Casings might be synthetic or natural, and the natural casings come from pigs, lamb or beef. If pork is an issue for you, read the labels carefully, so you don't end up buying a chicken in a pig's girdle.
Farfalle or rotini pasta with spinach and sausage
1 lb chicken sausage, sliced 1/2-inch thick
4 tsp olive oil
1 lb farfalle or rotini pasta, cooked according to package directions, drained (do not rinse), 1/2 cup cooking water reserved
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 lb baby spinach
2 tsp oyster-flavor sauce
4 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tsp olive oil, and cook the chicken sausage over medium-high heat until it is browned. Add onion, red pepper and spinach, and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add oyster sauce and soy sauce, and stir to combine. Add cooked pasta, and cook together for 2-3 minutes until pasta is incorporated with the sausage and vegetables. If needed, add a few Tbsp of reserved pasta water.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Chickpeas with sausage and peppers
Linguine with sausage, peppers, leeks and tomato
Whole wheat penne pasta with sausage, fennel, tomato and olives
Split pea, sausage and preserved lemon soup
Fregula sarda with leeks and sausage
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Italian sausage stuffed chicken breast, from Gourmeted
Chicken sausages with white beans, from In Good Taste
Easy chicken sausage hash, from Whipped
Frittata with zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and sausage, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Pasta with chicken sausage and broccoli, from Sweetnicks
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