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What it boils down to

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. So spoke Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, legendary French gastronome. On the surface, it sounds like some sort of cheap parlor game, or maybe a fortune teller’s scam at a traveling circus, but the man had a point. What we eat is an everyday testament to our personal, cultural, and, some would say, political, experience. There’s not much to argue with there. But I’ve been thinking lately, as I’m sometimes known to do, and I wonder if Brillat-Savarin’s snappy quip might lend itself to a modest—and seasonal—update. I’d like to propose a new parlor game, and it goes like this: tell me what you want for Christmas, and I will tell you what you are. We may be a week out from Thanksgiving, but as your local retailer would like to remind you, it’s never too early to draw up a list for Santa, or your mother. And just think of what you’ll learn about yourself—it’s better than psychoanalysis. I’ll demonstrate. This year, my list runs as follows:

a set of 4 ½-inch springform pans
a cake carrier

a comb
Bad Gal
Pilates sessions
sausage-making attachments for KitchenAid mixer

Reading between the lines, this much is clear: I’m a woman who plans to bake and transport cakes, but who can’t be bothered to replace the comb she broke three weeks ago or the favorite black eyeliner that was stolen from her suitcase last May; who trusts her mother’s taste in lingerie; who values exercise and a solid supply of fishnets; and who, dear reader, is very, very serious about sausage. And though any of these points is worthy of infinite discussion, really, we both know where I’m headed. In the end, it usually boils down to sausage.

I’ve already written at blush-worthy length of my great love for the humble sausage, that ancient and noble by-product of efficient butchery. Though the exact origins of sausage—a word derived from the Latin salsus, meaning “salted” or “preserved”—are up for debate, it is believed to have been invented thousands of years ago, as early as 3000 B.C. The concept itself is ingenious, really, a sort of delicious pack-rattery practiced on meat whereby leftover scraps and typically unappealing parts—less tender meats, or organs—are ground or chopped, salted, spiced, and packed into casings traditionally made of animal intestines. But really, the details don’t much matter. Fresh or cooked, smoked or not, dried or wondrously juicy, nearly any sausage will get a sigh out of me, from the boiled bratwurst of my childhood, eaten with my father at our kitchen table, to a housemade lamb sausage with tzatziki and cracker bread at San Francisco’s Zuni Café. I’ve seared sausage, roasted it, and grilled it; I’ve stretched out on a picnic blanket in the Place des Vosges and eaten salami and sopressata; and, by god, I’ve nearly bathed myself in a fennel sausage sandwich at Salumi. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I put two Italian sausages in a baking dish with a few handfuls of red grapes, and I slipped them into the oven.

The grapes sizzled, sputtered, and melted into syrup, basting and braising the sausages in their bubbling juices. In the heat of the oven, they turned winy and complex, shiny-skinned and soft, their sweetness and perky acidity a perfect foil for the fatty, earthy meat. A sausage is a fine thing, but topped with stewy grapes, it’s worth its weight in fishnets—which, anyway, I may never wear again, if there’s sausage under the Christmas tree.

Roasted Sausages with Red Grapes
Inspired by Gourmet and Matthew Amster-Burton

I was astounded by this deceivingly simple dish. Be sure to choose good-quality sausages and flavorful grapes, and then let them work their magic. Serve this lusty stuff alongside boiled or mashed potatoes, or maybe roasted winter squash, and sautéed or braised winter greens.

2 mild chicken or pork Italian sausages, about 5-6 ounces each
½ lb red seedless grapes, preferably organic
2 scant Tbs olive oil
½ - 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Lay the sausages in the skillet, and cook them, turning once, until nicely browned, about 8 minutes total.

While the sausages are cooking, remove the grapes from their stems, rinse them under cool water, drain them, and place them in a bowl. Add the olive oil, and toss.

When the sausages are browned, place them in an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish, and dump the grapes on top of and around them. Slide the dish into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes, turning the sausages once after about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, and move the sausages to a platter or individual plates. Pour the grapes and their juices into a small saucepan, season with a pinch of salt, and place the saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until the grapes bubble and sizzle and their juices are syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vinegar, and pour the grapes over the sausages. Serve.

Yield: 2 servings


Blogger Zarah Maria said...

I want that sausage-maker too! My boyfriend is still complaining I didn't exchange the pasta-maker I got for Christmas last year for the sausage-maker - but I want both! Mwahahaha!

12:58 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Oh good, ANOTHER thing to add to my list. I was going to ask for the ice cream attachment, but it seems a sausage maker is also in order! I was so looking forward to this post, Molly - and it did not disappoint. How luscious that plate looks, I could gobble it all up.

8:20 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Robbie C said...

I love sausage also and have been wanting to start making my own. You article is great incentive to get started. My current project is a Lobster Corn Soufflé for Thanksgiving.

8:27 AM, November 18, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Gosh, I would love a sausage attachment too, but unfortunately I don't have anything to attach it to! I do have a skillet, though, and so long as the supermarket keeps up its end of the deal and provides the sausages and grapes, I will definitely give this a whirl. There are few better dishes in my book than meat cooked with fruit.

Strangely enough, for the first several months after I gave up vegetarianism, sausages were the only meat I would eat. Of course I knew that their contents might be a little more, er, hard-core carnivore than what I would be capable of eating outside of a casing, but that didn't stop me (and still doesn't ;)!

9:53 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Frugal Foodlover said...

Frightening syncronicity!!!!!

I made this very dish from mamster's VERY RECIPE last night for dinner, w/ mashed potatoes and braised kale.

Great minds think alike.

Entertaining Christmas list, as well.

10:42 AM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Sam said...

Funnily enough, my comb broke many years ago. Ever since I have just been using the half of it I didn't yet lose.

I too have beem mulling over the idea of making sausages for a while. I mean, how hard can it be? And how delicious the results!

11:28 AM, November 18, 2005  
Anonymous mamster said...

Hey, thanks for cooking sausages inspired by me. It's a high honor indeed.

In Molly Stevens's All About Braising she has a recipe for braised sausages with plums that I think may be even better. Plum season is just about over now, I guess, but if you come across any late-season plums, especially if they're a little too firm or tart for eating out of hand, try it.

I also substituted figs for the plums and that was good too.

3:24 PM, November 18, 2005  
Anonymous Toni said...

Santa (Mom) now has your list and so here's the deal --- Santa will do her best and also wants sausage from Seattle. I know you can make it happen. Your post is wonderful.

4:29 PM, November 18, 2005  
Anonymous sher said...

Gosh, my Christmas list is so puny compared to yours. I forgot that Christmas is right around the corner. Right now, the only thing I've asked for is some Cowgirl Creamery cheese.

Your photos are wonderful, by the way. When a picture makes you drool a little--you know it's a keeper!


6:02 PM, November 18, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Zarah Maria, I'm with you. Clearly, you need both! Plus, just think--when you get those sausage-making attachments, you can have sausage with pasta. Mwahaha indeed.

Tara, you could gobble it all up, and my dear, I did! Here's hoping the holidays bring you ice cream and sausage...

Robbie C, I'm glad to have helped nudge you closer to sausage-making. I must say, though, that your current project sounds very, very worthy of your undivided attention! That lobster corn souffle sounds spectacular.

And Melissa, it suddenly seems that we have even more in common than I'd thought! Did you know that after years of not eating meat or poultry, I dove back in with a salami sandwich? And the first meat I then cooked was a lamb sausage, of all things. I hope there will be a KitchenAid mixer in your kitchen soon, my friend, followed shortly by sausage-making attachments.

Knicke, great minds clearly do think alike. That's some pretty wild synchronicity! And a good sign, I think--the more kitchens brimming with sausages and grapes, the better, right?

Sam, I too have been using a little nub of broken comb! There's a drugstore full of combs not two blocks from my apartment, but I'll be damned if I can manage to get over there! I figured I might as well ask for one for Christmas; it's perfect stocking-stuffer material, after all.

Mamster, lovely to see you here. Talk about a high honor! Plums and figs are terrific suggestions--thank you. I saw some very late-season plums at the U District farmers' market today, actually, and was mightily tempted, but I decided that I should take a few days off sausage, painful though it may be. I'll regret it soon enough, I'm sure...

Mom! I'm speechless! It's your very first Orangette comment! Everyone, meet my mom. And chere Maman, I'll see you Wednesday, with sausages, belated birthday wishes, and Brandon. Just my kind of Thanksgiving. xo

Sher, thank you. And as for your Christmas list, Cowgirl Creamery is no small potatoes! Excellent thinking! I hope you've requested Mt. Tam and Red Hawk, my two favorites.

9:45 PM, November 19, 2005  
Anonymous kayenne said...

fishnets? as in stockings?

i share your fascination with sausages. my friend is already giving me a hard time about it. LOL i love the "crunchy" skin plus tender juicy insides... drizzled with yellow mustard... YUMMM!!!

the spicy ones, i use for my devil's pasta. ;P

9:10 AM, November 20, 2005  
Blogger mamster said...

Whereas I saw some late-season plums at the Broadway market today and snapped them up with sausages and plums in mind. Oh yes.

9:03 PM, November 20, 2005  
Blogger Ruth said...

Loved the post and, like you love sausages. Lamb ranks right up there along with some chicken, apple and maple syrup ones I found at Whole Food here in Toronto.

Unlike you - I'll let others do the sausage making for me and just gobble them up.

5:35 AM, November 21, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

I'm a terrible geek, so I had to re-comment to say hello to Molly's Mom! You've got quite the daughter, Madame!

7:46 AM, November 21, 2005  
Anonymous Luisa said...

Good golly, that looks delicious. And your description! I'm seriously irked right now that I'll be eating sandwiches on a Greyhound tonight and nothing but turkey for the next week and must wait to make this recipe until next week! But then, but then... Thanks for the inspiration, Molly.

8:06 AM, November 22, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Kayenne, stand tall. Ain't no shame in loving sausages! And with mustard? Even better.

Mamster, alright, alright, I'm kicking myself. Don't rub it in!

Ruth, isn't it just amazing, all those varieties of sausage at Whole Foods? Our Seattle store has no less than a dozen different types, each more delicious-sounding than the next. My eyes glaze over just looking at the display case...

Tara, I love your terrible geekiness.

And Luisa, the sausages will wait. Travel safely, get that obligatory turkey out of the way, and then, sausages, sweet sausages.

12:23 PM, November 22, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Oh no, I can't resist this either!

Hope you are feeling better Molly, take care.

11:12 AM, November 24, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Keiko, thank you. As of today (November 30), I am officially three days into feeling "normal" again, after about seven(!) weeks(!) of feeling sub-par. I think I may be turning a corner, so knock on wood for me...

12:35 PM, November 30, 2005  
Blogger Betsy said...

Dear Molly,

Once again, you have proved a goldmine - I made the sausages on Friday night and they were delicious... and I felt like some kind of magician! Thank you! It's you and Madhur Jaffrey in my pantheon of worship-worthy cooks...

7:26 AM, May 04, 2009  
Anonymous kristi @ sproutsinthekitchen said...

Hi Molly,

Only thing you're missing here is a little Bourdieu. Too lazy to dig out the old grad school text, but I'm sure Laada would back me up on that one.

Luckily, sausage and grapes have cross-class appeal, and sound to me like the perfect dish for the dumping downpour we're having today.

Love your blog, haven't yet read the book (but congrats!), and am very much looking forward to trying the pizza which, coincidentally, is walking distance from my house!

11:23 AM, September 06, 2009  
Anonymous NG said...

Thanks for this post! I'm coming to it almost ten years late, because I wanted a simple & new sausage recipe and figured your blog would be a good place to start looking. I think I'll try to make this tomorrow, but I'm just wondering why you move the sausages to a glass baking dish. If you brown them in the cast-iron skillet, why not just add the grapes to the pan and then put the whole thing in the oven? Let me know if you get a chance before tomorrow - otherwise I'll let you know how it goes! :)


11:51 AM, November 12, 2013  
Blogger Molly said...

NG, that's a very good question. I have no idea why I didn't just toss the grapes into the skillet! Weird! I would definitely do it that way now.

1:33 PM, November 15, 2013  

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