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If you find yourself on a vacation in Italy, it’s not very likely that you’ll find the term ‘Italian sausage’ on the restaurant menu. You may simply see a ‘salsiccia’ on the menu, although, there are many different types on Italian menus. However, if you’re looking for a place to eat a delicious sausage somewhere in the cities of North America, you may find yourself intrigued by a special type of pork sausage, commonly referred to as ‘the Italian sausage’.
This type of sausage is also known as ‘Sweet Italian Sausage’, ‘Mild Italian Sausage’, but also ‘Hot Italian Sausage. The terms ‘sweet’ and ‘mild’ you may use interchangeably, as they usually refer to the same type of Italian sausage.
In most cases, we are talking about a pork sausage made with anis, fennel seeds, and in the case of hot sausage, some hot spice is expected as well (e.g. minced hot peppers), according to preference.
If you’re an Italian food lover, you must have run into this type of sausage when ordering pasta, pizza, and many other meat-containing Italian dishes.
Also, if you have a recipe that requires a hot Italian sausage, but you have only found the mild/sweet one, all you need to do is add some crushed pepper, chili, or minced hot paprikas, and you’re good to go.
If you find yourself in Italy, and there is a ‘sasiccia fresca’ or ‘fresh sausage’ offered in the restaurant or supermarket, and if its primary seasoning is with fennel, you can rest assured that you are dealing with Italian sausage.
History of the Italian Sausage
This may be a bit unexpected, but the evidence of the Italian sausage as we know it today dates back all the way to the 1st century before Christ.
The recipe and the dish were first described by the Roman historian Marco Terenzio Varrone. Thanks to him two thousand years later, we are still able to enjoy this delicious meal. And the best part is that today it’s not only available and known in Italy and countries that previously belonged to the Roman Empire, but everywhere in the world.
In his writings, Varrone called this delicates dish ‘lucanica’. It is possible that the sausage was previously called also ‘luganega’. Lucanica is how the Roman soldiers who were the first ones to learn how to prepare it, used to call it. Lucanica was a dish made of minced meat that was packed into a case and well seasoned. According to Martial and Cicero, the sausage was named by the region of its origin – the Italian Lucania.
In the US, thanks to the rich cultural mix in most parts of the country, along with the people migrating from Italy, came also the famous Italian sausage… and since it’s so good, it stuck around for quite some time.
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into the topic: what is this sausage made of exactly, and is it possible for you to make it at home?
What Is Italian Sausage Made Of?
Making an Italian sausage at home is possible, as it doesn’t require any kind of special machinery. Of course, everything is much easier to make with industrial machines, however, it’s also less tasty, and you have no control over the ratio of ingredients as you have when you’re preparing your food at home.
However, stuffing sausages at home can be quite demanding, so many people prefer to avoid going through all the trouble, and simply purchase them at the local shop. On the other hand, if you are buying bulk sausage from your local butcher or you plan to use crumbled meat from a casing to prepare a dish, you can simply buy ground pork too and season it with your own seasoning.
The original Italian sausage usually contains:
- Fennel (but also ground fennel seeds);
- Crushed red pepper;
- Sweet paprika;
- Black pepper;
- Dried thyme;
- Red wine vinegar.
A good thing about the Italian sausage is that you don’t have to use all the ingredients if you don’t like something. Even if you lose an ingredient or replace some of them, it will likely preserve its original taste.
If you don’t want to bother with buying each of these ingredients individually, you can for sure find an ‘Italian seasoning blend’ in your supermarket, buy a few bags of those, and take a shortcut.
Also, if you don’t consume pork meat, you can still prepare the Italian sausage using others types of meat, such as chicken, or cow. The secret is in the seasoning and the spices, so although the type of meat does change the taste of the dish, it’s not crucial for it to be pork.300
For achieving the best results with your Italian sausage, we strongly recommend purchasing the ingredients from the local fresh market.
For example, it’s really important that you find some fresh fennel, as this celery-like vegetable from the carrot family can taste really bad otherwise. The same goes for sweet paprikas, as these are the richest with flavor if they are organically grown and fresh.
When it comes to parsley, it’s always nicer to use fresh leaves, however, if you can’t find any, dried leaves will do the trick too. For those of you who are sensitive or dislike the strong taste of garlic, you can either put less fresh garlic or use the dried ones. Red wine vinegar is optional.
The process of preparing is something that not everybody likes to do. You basically need to knead the pork meat with red wine vinegar and the spices, until it’s evenly distributed through the sausage.
You can add the spices according to your preferences, and simply use more of what you like to taste.
After you’re done with the kneading, you should split the sausage into three pieces, and wrap them in plastic foil. Then, you can either freeze them or store them in the fridge before use.
Another option is to smoke the sausages. To do this, you need to separate the meat pieces to make sure that the air will circulate between them. This is why you can often see meat hanging from a rack when being dried. If you don’t have the conditions for this way of drying, you can also put them on a grill and smoke them for a couple of hours at 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and then slowly increase the heating. The final internal temperature of the sausage should be around 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Can I Use the Italian Sausage?
The Italian sausage is actually surprisingly versatile when it comes to different ways you can combine it in your home cuisine.
One way to use it is to add it to a soup, along with other vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, celery, or anything else you like to put in a soup. The sausage should give a very nice aroma to the soup, and thanks to it being well-seasoned, you don’t have to bother too much with the spices.
Another way to use it is to put it on a pizza and mix it with other common pizza ingredients that you like.
Of course, you can also frill the sausage, and eat it with a fresh bun, pita bread, or in a tortilla, combined with some fresh vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, fresh onions, and sauces of your choice.
Other options are to simply mix the sausage meat with eggs, mix it with pasta, or simply eat it fried. It mixes well with all kinds of red sauces and stews as well.
Italian sausage is one of the go-to dishes when you’re not sure what to make and you don’t want to put in too much effort, while still getting an excellent and tasty meal as a result.
The long history and tradition of this simple dish make it an interesting option when you’re having guests, as there’s also a story to tell about the (at least) two thousand years old sausage recipe.
The main benefits of the Italian sausage are that it’s very straightforward to prepare, the ingredients are usually available regardless of where you live, and it tastes amazing – there’s hardly anyone who wouldn’t enjoy it.
The dish is very well mixed with all kinds of foods: leftovers of cooked vegetables, soups, fresh salads, cream salads, stews, but it also combines well with a simple bun.
Although it’s not recommended to eat such heavy food for breakfast, from time to time it is quite delicious to combine it with your morning scrambled eggs and season with some rocket and cherry tomatoes.