The nights are gradually beginning to draw in, a little more each day. When once, just a few weeks ago, I was able to sit out on my balcony long into the evening, now I am more or less confined to the house as soon as soon as I arrive home from work. The crisper air and dark evenings always bring with them a desire to nest, and the autumn colours in the market bring with them a particular type of food; autumnal food – shades of gold somewhere in between summer’s lightness and winter’s austerity. Opening the fridge to these ingredients and their possibilities is enough to make you forget about the trip to the pub in favour of a warm night in.
Sausages, for me, are such a part of warming winter comfort food that, unless they are pulled, charred and smoking, from a BBQ, I find it almost impossible to eat them in the summer months. The smoky meatiness lends itself so well to a host of other flavours that are best enjoyed whilst wearing a jumper, with the central heating on, watching all of the films you missed during the hot weather because the city gave you better things to do. Whether accompanied by a heap of artery-clogging buttery mashed potato or plunged into a spicy bean stew, they cannot help but warm you through. As a child, I always ate sausages on bonfire night, encased in a bun with ketchup spilling all over my gloves – they were a good and cheap way to protect us against the winter chill and momentarily distract us from the possibility of sparklers, something we would constantly harass our parents for.
This ‘orzotto’ recipe, a kind of risotto made with orzo, or risoni, pasta instead of the usual arborio rice, was adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg book – my go-to cookbook for cheap and healthy mid-week suppers. Finding warming vegetarian suppers, whilst not a challenge, can often be monotonous, but this book draws upon a range of different cultures to provide enough meat-free meals to see you through the colder months. Of course, I have done the unthinkable and added meat to this otherwise well-thought out dish. This is not simply a carnivore’s reaction, after all, I was a vegetarian for almost twelve years, but instead a need to find a way to use up some sausages leftover from the weekend that were languishing in the bottom of my fridge. On a trip to Brockley Market this weekend, I managed to procure some rather delicious sausages – venison, chilli and garlic and wild boar and apple. The former were eaten at a late Saturday night BBQ, something my family insist on having each month, come rain or shine, but we could not manage the second packet. Two made their way into a rather good Sunday morning sandwich, and I could not bear to let the rest go to waste.
When cooking with sausages in this way, as with adding them to the top of a pizza, I prefer to peel off the skins and use the meat in its rougher form – it is far easier to cook it evenly this way. Some chunks of apple escaped from the sausage meat during frying, which was picked out and discarded and, although some small chunks remained, the flavour was very subtle and in no way overwhelmed the mushrooms. As with any mushroom dish, the real beauty comes when you use a mixture of mushrooms to get a more interesting flavour and texture. In this recipe I used a mixture of chestnut and oyster mushrooms. Surprisingly, I did not include porcini as I often do in mushroom dishes as I thought the flavour too strong. The orzo, when cooked properly, gives a velvety texture that it is difficult to achieve when using the various types of short grain rice preferred for a risotto, and the ritual of adding stock and stirring is also unnecessary, making this a somewhat lazy dish in comparison. The sauce is similar to that of a mushroom ragout and would work just as perfectly with other types of pasta, particularly tagliatelle or pappardalle.
Sausage and Mushroom ‘Orzotto’ (serves two)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Four sausages, skins removed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 500g mixed mushrooms
- 200g orzo or risoni pasta
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 50g mascarpone
- Salt and black pepper
- Finely chopped parsley, to serve
- Shaved parmesan, to serve
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Once cooked, drain and set aside.
Heat half the oil in a frying pan and add the sausage meat. Cook for five minutes until browned. Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook until caramelised. Remove all of the contents from the pan on to a plate, heat the oil and cook the garlic and thyme. Add the balsamic vinegar until it bubbles and return the sausage and mushrooms to the pan.
Reduce the heat and stir in the mascarpone. Cook until it is just simmering. Stir in the drained pasta and cook until heated through. Season to taste and serve topped with the copped parsley and shaved parmesan.