I'd planned to make Red Beans 'n' Rice for dinner on Monday night, after Tom picked me up at work and we ran a couple of errands. I don't make the long, slow, authentic version famous in New Orleans; I make a quickie version that would horrify anyone from Louisiana before they even bothered to taste it to see that it's really good.
But Tom was getting over the flu and still not feeling his best that afternoon, and we almost never (Chinese or Indian restaurants being the sole exceptions) eat anything but brown rice. Add some high-fiber beans and some Cajun spices to that mix, and it was likely going to be a bit rough for a recovering stomach. So we switched gears on our way to Trader Joe's.
We bought some chicken sausages flavored with Fontina cheese and spinach. We found fennel -- one of my very favorite foods! -- at the ludicrous and almost suspicious (can this really be right???) price of $2.49 for 2 bulbs. We had a gigantic bag of spinach at home, as well as pesto and parmesan and my new bottle of lemon balsamic vinegar.
And so, we made ourselves an Italian-influenced stir fry.
My parents had given Tom a mandoline for Christmas. Yeah, I know everyone thinks it was for lil' ol' me, and that they just put his name on it as a means of giving me one more goodie but kinda sorta acknowledging his existence. Uh uh. I am terrified of the thing, and have sworn I would never use one; I am a notorious klutz, and even bear a scar on my left index finger from having sliced myself (and received 4 stitches afterwards) while trimming the ends off sunflowers. I know perfectly well -- and Jeremy will corroborate this for you readily, just ask him -- that I would lose a fingertip if I ever dared to use a mandoline.
But Tom has wanted to play with one for a long time, to make salads and cole slaw and possibly even homemade potato chips. And this was his first chance to use it.
Once the beautifully thin slices of fennel were ready with virtually no effort, Tom proceeded to slice an onion for me as well. (I almost wished we'd been making a layered salad, because he had so much fun with his new toy!) I then sauteed the vegetables, browned the sausage, tossed in some spinach, and combined the pesto and some vinegar and a bit of water to make a sauce. 10 minutes after we started the process, our stir fry was ready to be served over brown rice, topped with some shreds of parmesan.
And dinner, quite frankly, was amazing! A little pinch of red pepper flakes wouldn't hurt it the next time we make it (and there will absolutely be a next time!), and you could certainly use white wine instead of plain ol' water. The fennel and onion had been sliced so thinly that they caramelized readily in the skillet and were almost sweet. The sausage had an excellent flavor, and there was abundant nutrition in the lean meat and the hefty dose of vegetables and the whole grain support system for it all. Truly, it was a delicious meal ... and all on a whim!
Here is the recipe written with accommodations, since I know that not everyone has access to some of the more exotic ingredients I am very fortunate to have. The stir-fry would also be excellent served over pasta, or even as the filling for a sub with cheese melted over it ... sigh ....
Italian Sausage Stir-Fry
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, halved and sliced very thin
1 small onion, halved and sliced very thin
2 links pre-cooked Italian sausage, sliced thin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons pesto
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water or white wine
2 huge handsful fresh spinach, torn
brown rice or pasta, for serving
parmesan, for serving
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fennel and onion, and cook until softened and starting to turn golden.
Add sausage and cook until lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and Italian seasoning.
Combine pesto, vinegar and water; pour into skillet and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute as sauce bubbles.
Add spinach and cook until wilted. Serve over rice or pasta.
Serves 2 generously.