Italian Sausage & Rice
Ground meat has to be one of the most versatile ingredients in my freezer. I often keep a supply on hand for last-minute chili, spaghetti Bolognese, lamb kebabs or meatloaf. Depending on the recipe, I might use ground beef, pork, veal, poultry or lamb. Aside from the single ingredient meats, I usually also have a couple packages of both sweet and spicy Italian sausage meat.
The other day I thawed out a one-pound package of the spicy sausage – then, as is often the case, I had no plan. I looked through my fridge and pantry to see what inspiration struck. I had originally thought about making a spicy sauce to put on pasta but we had recently eaten spaghetti so I needed something different. I ended up sautéing some onions, peppers and chopped kale with the sausage meat and rice. It was a one-pot meal packed with a lot of flavor! Adding a bit of saffron and smoked paprika gave it a Spanish flavor and reminded me of paella but was a lot easier to make.
Make sure you use the correct size frying pan as all the ingredients will be cooked in a single pan and the rice will double in volume as it cooks. I use an 11-inch cast iron pan but any sturdy frying pan of similar size would work fine. Although the chicken broth combined with the liquid from the tomatoes should be enough to fully cook the rice, keep an eye on it and add a bit more liquid if necessary.
ITALIAN SAUSAGE & RICE
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup chicken broth
Extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
½ large Vidalia (sweet) onion, diced
1 bunch kale, stems discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound hot (or sweet) Italian sausage meat
½ cup dry white wine, more as needed
1 cup rice (I use Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice)*
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
15 ounce can of petite diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
Chopped fresh herbs, for serving
Place the saffron and chicken broth into a small bowl allowing the saffron to dissolve a bit and flavor the broth. Set aside.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (11 inch diameter) cast iron frying pan until the oil is shimmering. Sauté the bell pepper and onion until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Stir in the chopped kale, adding a little more olive oil if necessary, and continue sautéing until the kale softens. Carefully add the white wine to the pan to deglaze for a minute, stirring well to remove any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables to a bowl and set aside. Any liquid can remain in the pan.
Add a little more oil to the pan and sauté the sausage meat until brown, about 8 minutes. Use a wooden spoon or potato masher to break up any large clumps of meat.
When done, make sure the sausage meat is evenly spread across the bottom of the pan. We’ll begin layering the components on top of each other: meat, rice, vegetables then add the liquid.
Sprinkle the uncooked rice evenly over the browned meat. Top this with the sautéed vegetables and dried marjoram.
Carefully pour the diced tomatoes (and juices) and the chicken stock/saffron on top. The vegetables on top will help keep the rice moist as it cooks while adding a lot of flavor.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and let the mixture cook for 15 minutes. After that time, check to see if the rice is done or whether you need to add a bit more wine or water so the rice can fully cook.
Before serving, carefully stir to combine all the layers and top with a sprinkle of smoked Spanish paprika and some chopped fresh herbs such as chives or parsley.
*Although I use red bell peppers in my recipe, any combination of red/yellow/orange bell peppers would work. Green bell peppers are unripe and would add a sharper flavor to the mix. Chopped spinach or any spicy greens would be a nice change from the kale. Feel free to use brown rice instead of white rice if you prefer.