My Italian family makes sausage once or twice a year. It’s a lot of work assembling roughly 60 pounds of ingredients, but it helps to have lots of people there sharing in the experience and making the job easier. Laughter and happiness naturally mix into the event as we add fantastic flavors to the ground pork. The recipe we use has plenty of garlic, fennel, basil, and lots of provolone. When it cooks up, it is just pure goodness shaped into patties and links.
I recall the first time I made this recipe. I was coming home from visiting family with some frozen sausage all coiled up in a plastic zip-top bag. On a whim, I tried baking it. I took a 12″ x 12″ baking pan, added the thawed but still coiled sausage, two cups of white rice, some boiled water, and a little salt and pepper. After sealing it up with two layers of aluminum foil, I baked it for about 45 minutes at 350ºF.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled out the piping hot dish from the oven, but I sure was happy with the result. The rice had become plump and infused with the rich flavors of the sausage. The heat worked to transfer fat and oils from the pork and cheeses to the rice, giving it body like a jambalaya. Precious flavors drip out of sausage when it is cooked on a grill, but the baking method seems to preserve them all.
I’ve made this dish a few times now, trying new things along the way — mixing herbs into the rice or changing up the cooking liquids. And, it gets a nice benefit from vegetables added right at the end. I tried throwing in some thinly sliced red and yellow peppers, which softened ever so slightly from the residual heat of the rice. They gave the dish freshness, balancing the richness of the rice and sausage. Fresh herbs work well at this stage, too.
Baked Italian Sausage
- 1.5 to 2 lbs Italian sausage in casings
- 2 1/3 cups boiling water
- 1 1/2 cups white or brown rice
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 3/4 cup any combination of finely diced red bell pepper, roasted red peppers, green onions, marinated artichoke hearts, or olives
- optional: 1/2 cup chopped herbs (basil, Italian flat leaf parsley, thyme)
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
To a 12″ x 12″ baking pan, add whole sausage and surround with rice. Sprinkle the garlic powder, salt, and pepper over rice. When the water has boiled, add it to the baking pan and immediately cover with lid or seal with aluminum foil.
If using brown rice, bake for an hour. Otherwise, bake for 45 minutes, or until sausage is firm and rice is entirely cooked.
Uncover, then remove sausage to cutting board. Slice on the bias into thick coins. Add sausage back to the rice along with vegetables and herbs (if using). Let rest 10 minutes, and serve with a nice glass of wine. Salute!