February, always the coldest month in Malta, to my mind. The month furthest from last autumn’s long lingering warmth and a period that finds our limestone houses at their dampest. As we round the corner into my least favourite month, the weather has turned miserable, true to form. Today, a Saturday of non-stop gales and rain lashing our exposed islands. Rarely do I cook a full blown Saturday lunch; we usually grab a quick bowl of soup. The rawness of today called for something soul boosting.
Everyone has their favourite type of homely, hearty sausage; in the UK, my family’s was Lincolnshire, although we lived in Hampshire. My mother is from ‘up North’, from near Lincoln. We kids would call the county ‘northern’ even though it lies barely in the midlands, more East Anglia direction really. Every Easter we’d visit my grandmother and hate the icy blast that would whip across the mudflats from places with enticing names like Skegness and Cleethorpes – straight from Siberia, as my grandmother would say.
The one blessing of visiting her were her feasts of meals. Dorothy would be up with the lark baking fresh bread each day for our full English breakfasts. Later, there’d be lunch finished off with a routine apple pie with a slab of cheddar-infused crust. The meat she served really did seem better than that of down South. And my grandmother knew all about meat as she’d run a farm almost single-handed and been in the thick of dealing with all the parts of the ritually-slaughtered pig. By the time I remember visiting her though, those days were behind her. Nonetheless, she sought out the very best meat of roundabouts – she never skimped on quality, living carefully on her pension to ensure she ate well but wisely and frugally. As we headed homewards down South, she pass us a large greaseproof bag full of Lincolnshire’s prime sausages.
Malta has incredibly tasty sausages, but since joining the EU back in 2004, our butchers also offer quite a range of Italian varieties. Sicilian sausage is my favourite as it comes packed with fennel, my go-to herb in Mediterranean cooking. I had a choice of Firenze or Wild Boar, but stuck to my regular Sicilian sausage as I wanted to add a whole bunch more deep south flavours – chili, garlic and rosemary – to create a kind of sausage arrabiata stew. One-pots do just the job for cold wet winter days. Bubbling away, their aromas waft throughout the house. I put three whole, scored chilis in this (you may prefer none or fewer) and ‘by eck’ as me grandma would say, didn’t they do us good! That fiery after burn certainly shrugged off the cold and damp.
All images © Liz Ayling 2014
- 8 smallish, aromatic sausages (thick, high meat content, plenty of robust flavours ideal)print button transparent
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
- 2 carrots, peeled & diced
- 6 garlic cloves, whole with skins
- 3 fresh chilis, scored (or 1 tsp dried chili flakes)
- 4 fresh bay leaves
- good sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 glass white wine
- 1 x 400g can peeled plum tomatoes
- 500ml water
- 1 x 400g can of cannellini beans, rinsed & drained
- fresh ground black pepper
- Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a heavy-based cooking pan (deep frying pan or steel casserole with lid/cover). Fry the sausages in two batches until deep golden on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and rest on kitchen paper.
- Lower the heat under the pan and add the diced onion and carrots, and the whole garlic cloves. Stir around then add the herbs and chilis, and place lid on the pan so the vegetables can sweat down; takes around 8 minutes on a very low heat.
- When the diced vegetables are softened, turn up the heat and add the balsamic vinegar, then the wine, allowing them to reduce a little and deglaze the pan.
- Add the tomatoes and some of the water, bring the mixture to the boil and then add the part-cooked sausages; they should be nearly covered by the liquid. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for around 30 minutes until the sauce is reduced. Check the liquid levels and stir every so often to ensure the casserole doesn’t stick or burn. Add more water if need be.
- Around 10 minutes before end of cooking time, add the drained Cannellini bean just to heat them through.
- Serve the sausage stew garnished with fresh herbs – chopped fennel fronds or parsley – and crusty bread. You can serve with mashed potatoes if you prefer but I think a thick crusty loaf ideal to mop up the amazing robust soup part of the casserole. If you like a less hot version, use one chili only.