Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Makin' It Up As I Go Along

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.

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Unknown said...

This looks like a dish I would like to run to my kitchen right now and make! However, I have 1 tiny problem...I DO NOT care for fennel in any form or dish. Do you have a suggestion for substitution? More onions, or some bok choy?
Oh and I love my mandolin, it is the only thing that actually saves me from losing a finger or 3 (mine has a slicing guard)LOL! thanks again for the great share!

Unknown said...

OMG, this looks and sounds amazing! I mean I even want it right now with my coffee!! Gotta get to TJ to get that chicken sausage...mmmmmmm... Fontina cheese!!!

Lisa said...

This does look good! We always buy that sausage too and I love it! Thanks for the idea : )

Karen Harris said...

I have my own bloody mandoline story so I have a great respect for them. Now that I use my finger guard it is one of my favorite kitchen tools. I love fennel and I love cheap fennel even better. Your stir-fry looks amazing.

Unknown said...

That looks really good. I've swapped in sausage for a few recipes recently and have had great results. I think I'll be trying this soon.

Cranberry Morning said...

You'll be horrified to learn that I've never used fennel in anything, so I'll have to try this. I like the mandoline, but I'll have to admit that it does look like a planer, a woodworking tool made to scrape the skin off your hands or lose a fingertip if you're not really careful! Still, what a cool gift for Tom.

Andrea the Kitchen Witch said...

I love it when a great meal comes together on a whim :) Its like it was meant to be!!

The mandolin is a fun tool but I highly recommend using the finger guard. I've cut myself on my old one more times than I'd like to admit to. Great tool but highly dangerous, too :)

Kuppy said...

You have an award on my blog!!

Dillypoo said...

Looks yummy!

I love my mandolin but always use the guard! It comes with one for a reason. I got cocky one time about needing that "stupid guard" and sliced a knuckle with some celery. Not pretty and very painful!

Ma What's 4 dinner said...

MMMmmmm, MMMMMmmmmm, MMMMMmmmm! Looks delish. Here's to making stuff up on the fly...always turns out the best!

Lots of yummy love,
Alex aka Ma What's For Dinner

Rachel R. said...

That looks really good! Even more impressive that you made it up on the fly. I'm more of a recipe follower :)

Thanks for linking up at the Relax & Make Friends Blog Hop. I'm now following you back!


Robin said...

Having read the comments, if you use the guard (per the instructions) you should be able to use the mandoline. Moving on... I was really forward to a red beans and rice recipe... Sigh. I don't think that I have ever had fennel. And I don't eat pork. Though I suppose I could use turkey sausage. I don't know. This is a lot of thinking. Anyway, now I am thinking about red beans and rice. Do you have the Popeye's chain there? They make the best red beans and rice. Now I have a craving. Darn it.

Candace said...

What a yummy looking meal! Please don't tell any of my friends back home but we make our red beans and rice similar to yours. It's delicious and so much better for us than the traditional. :)

Leanne said...

I *heart* Trader Joes! and think this would become a fast favorite meal in our home!!! But I'm right there with you, I'm not a mandoline fan and while I'd love there to be less of me in the New Year - I'm not willing to do it by way of my fingers!!! ;)

Still looks yummy! What time is dinner tomorrow?

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