Thursday, November 10, 2011

The November Harvest Calendar

It feels as though we're standing at the edge of winter now. The harvest is almost done for the year - we're already starting to draw off cold storage for many of my favorite fall crops.

I love the scent of autumn, though really what is it other than the smell of decay? But there's still a mineral freshness to be found. Newly dug carrots.


And a leafy crunch still to be found in cabbages.

And Brussels sprouts.

Even now there are still good grapes to be had.

The Romanesco is stunning.

The fennel too.

And the cauliflower, which roasts into a beautiful soup.

Other crops fresh from the field this month include shell beans, broccoli, collard greens, mesclun & parsnips. And the cold storage crops, apples, leeks, onions, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash & turnips are still new and full of flavor.

Crop notes are available in the sidebar harvest calendar over there on the right all month. The information comes from a guide published by the CENYC, which runs the Greenmarket & New Farmer Development Project. To familiarize yourself with what's in season where you live, I advise a visit to your own farmer's markets at least every couple of weeks. And ask lots of questions – no one knows which crops are at their peak quite like the people who grow them. To locate markets near you in the US, check the Zip or City Quick Search at Local Harvest.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Artichokes Poached in Olive Oil with Lemon Anchovy Sauce - a Recipe

I'm tinkering. My kitchen is packed with quinces, baby leeks, and the last of the plums. In the meantime, here's a treat I've been setting out with drinks at the end of the day since the baby artichokes arrived, complete with my favorite tale of culinary revenge.

There is a wonderful story my friend and former boss tells about her exceedingly genteel Provençal mother-in-law and World War II. That side of her family lives still in a large country mas or farmhouse near Arles, and during the war, their home was occupied by the Nazis. This French family and a number of German officers lived side by side for over a year in strained civility. And it fell to my friend’s mother-in-law, then a very young bride, to cook meals for the enemy.

Once the war was over, one of the officers was ordered to stay behind and repair any damage to the family’s home, and one night, our heroine served up a platter of large globe artichokes. It soon became clear that the houseguest had never eaten an artichoke before. He picked up his knife and fork and managed to spear a few of the tough outer leaves – thorns and all – before bringing them to his lips and chewing for what must have been a very long and painful time.

Of course, my friend’s mother-in-law maintains to this day that not one member of the family corrected him, because it would have been unthinkably rude to embarrass a guest. But when we learn that they sat in cordial silence and watched the officer eat every leaf in this manner and then the choke, it may occur to some of us that the family – and perhaps in particular the young girl who’d prepared the man’s meals those many months – may have taken some modicum of satisfaction from such a discrete yet publicly drawn out revenge.

History does not relate how the artichokes had been prepared that night over 60 years ago, but this is a recipe from Provence that’s almost as old as time itself. Whether you use the large globe variety, or the small, nutty violets or poivrades of the region, this method brings out the delicate flavor of artichokes better than any other I’ve found. I’ve used some of the cooking oil to make a warm dipping sauce – not quite as traditional, but deliciously saline and tangy when scooped up in the little hollows of the artichoke halves.

If you use small artichokes (these lovelies came from Norwich Meadows Farm), cut your largest one in half before you begin. If the choke has formed, you’ll need to halve and clean the artichokes before you cook them. Otherwise you can just trim the outer leaves and keep them whole – in which case they’ll bloom like the little flowers they are as they cook in the hot olive oil. Large globe artichokes need to cook for much longer. You may quarter them and then clean them as I describe for the smaller specimens, but, if you’re serving them at the table rather than as hors’deuvres, you can leave them whole and skip the cleaning altogether. Vive la Résistance!

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Special equipment: a splatter screen

5 lemons
10 small artichokes or 4 globe artichokes
extra virgin olive oil
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
good sea salt

Fill a small bowl halfway with cold water and squeeze in the juice of 1 of the lemons. Cut 2 more lemons in half and keep next to your work surface.

Clean an artichoke by first trimming the stem and cutting off the top 1 – 3 inches of leaves, just until you’ve removed the tough, fibrous portion. Rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice. Now pull off the tough base leaves and rub the base of the artichoke with lemon juice. Now cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and rub the newly exposed portion with lemon juice. Use a small spoon to scoop out the choke, and rub the area with lemon juice. Place the artichoke halves in the acidulated water to prevent browning, and continue with the rest of the artichokes (see photo below).

When your artichokes are clean, arrange them in a pot, cut sides facing up. Pour in olive oil until it comes halfway up the artichokes, and then pour in water to just cover them completely. Place the pot over high heat, cover with the splatter screen, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil small artichokes for 15 – 25 minutes and larger ones for up to 45 minutes until all the splattering has stopped and the water has evaporated. The outer leaves of the artichokes should be lightly golden.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the artichokes to paper towels to drain. Measure 6 tablespoons of the cooking oil into a small saucepan and add the chopped anchovies. Sizzle over medium heat until the anchovies have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the juice of a lemon.

When ready to serve, arrange the artichokes on a serving board or platter, shower with the juice of the remaining lemon, and sprinkle with sea salt. Decant the warm anchovy and lemon mixture into a small bowl, and serve immediately.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Toad in the Hole

Something about all the wind and rain we've had lately makes me long for comfort, warmth, and the food of my youth. Here's another of the pieces I wrote as part of a feature on British food for my friends Kelly and Katie over at PixiesDidIt!

Bubble and squeak. Spotted dick. Girdle sponges. It occurs to me that British food may have acquired its undeserved, unfortunate reputation thanks to some of its more regrettable recipe titles. Personally though I happen to like the colorful names.

Take toad in the hole, one of the most comforting and crave-able classic nursery food dishes the world has ever known. Savory British “bangers” are sizzled over heat until golden, then baked in a blanket of Yorkshire pudding batter. The batter rises and browns around the sausages, leaving them peaking out from the various pockets that form. Like toads peering out of their holes even. The Yorkshire pudding soaks up the flavor of the sausages, which keep it soft and aromatic within, but crusty on the outside. The sausages crisp and dry a little where they are exposed but stay moist and plump underneath the batter. It’s utterly simple, the best of both worlds, and consummately reassuring.

The trick to Yorkshire pudding, whether for toad in the hole or otherwise, is to start with very hot fat. That’s why you preheat the casserole dish and its oil along with the oven - otherwise the batter won’t puff. The dish is best eaten at home on a chill evening, when your bones are weary. Preferably after some grueling physical activity, field hockey practice in the rain, say, and a subsequent hot shower, and just before sliding your heavy limbs between cool, clean sheets for sleep.

Serves 3 - 4

olive oil
8 medium sized, banger-style sausages
7/8 cup flour
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup milk
½ cup water
2 eggs
optional for serving: onion gravy (I come from a long line of purists and prefer this without, but you can click on the link for a good recipe).

Pour a generous amount of olive oil (about 1/8 inch or ½ cm deep) into a fairly deep 8 – 9 inch casserole dish. Place the dish in the center of a cold oven and preheat to 450 F (230 C, gas mark 8).

Use a sharp knife to prick the sausages in several places. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and then the sausages. Allow to brown deeply before turning and browning on the other side.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, water, and eggs and whisk again until just combined. Do not overmix. Set aside to rest.

When the oven is preheated, remove the casserole dish from the oven and arrange the sausages in the hot oil. Working quickly to keep the oil hot, pour over the batter and immediately place back in the center of the oven. Bake until the batter is puffed and golden brown – about 25 – 35 minutes, but this can vary based on your oven.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Venetian Tagliatelle with Roasted Chicken, Fennel & Pine Nuts

This is rainy day food. Bitterly damp, cold day food. What after all could provoke the desire to hunker, batten, and huddle more than the off-season in Venice, when the best days find the whole city shrouded in chill and mist? When you can circle, lost for hours in some remote corner of one of the comunes you hadn’t known existed before, knowing that at any turn, you might find yourself adrift in fog, or ankle-deep in water, or, rarest of all, at the edge of some tiny piazza lightly dusted with snow.

And this tagliatelle dish is classically Venetian, known as “frisinsal de tagiadele” in the local dialect and traditionally served on Friday nights for the Sabbath in the Jewish ghetto there. Though there are versions from Jewish communities all over Italy, the Venetian version with its roasted chicken and sauce made from the pan drippings is the one that I find particularly warming and crave-able. I like roast chicken more than just about anything, and this is essentially a celebration of what a glorious thing a well-seasoned, well-roasted chicken really is.

I learned from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food that sage is traditionally used, but I’ve never had it that way, even in Venice, and I prefer it without. Then again, the fennel isn’t traditional either, and nor is the wine or the lemon juice, but I’ve added them over the years and love the dish all the more ever since. And fennel’s just coming into season, so it’s the perfect time to try the recipe out, especially as the weather cools.

This is one of those dishes, like risotto or bouillabaisse, where the quality of the stock makes a vast difference. Not like some chef telling you it’s better to always use homemade stock and to keep batches on hand in your freezer just like they do, but an actual, huge difference. If you’re out of homemade stock and want the full experience, roast the chicken earlier in the day, deglaze and reserve the cooking juices, remove the meat from the bones, and then use the carcass to make stock before proceeding. But then again, don’t let the absence of homemade stock or the will to make it stop you from trying this dish. I have friends who repeatedly request this dish for their birthdays, though I gladly make it for them on any other day too, just so I can have it, just so I can bear witness to their delight.

This dish is ultimately about intensifying the most soul-nourishing of flavors at every turn, with every opportunity. I’ve even, in moments of utter hedonism, taken the chicken’s skin and sizzled it in olive oil until crisp, to adorn the pasta with just before serving. There is no need to rinse the chicken – that just spreads bacteria to other parts of the kitchen. Make several slices in the thigh and leg meat though, to ensure it roasts at the same speed as the breast meat.

Serves 4 - 6

2 fennel bulbs, with fronds attached if possible
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 chicken, neck reserved if possible
3 lemons
2 stalks fresh rosemary, plus 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup pine nuts
2 glasses white wine
2 cups (plus extra) good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lb tagliatelle or pappardelle (I prefer non-egg pasta here, but it's just personal taste)
a good handful of flat parsley leaves if your fennel didn't have its fronds attached

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C, gas mark 7)

Remove the fronds from the fennel stalks and reserve. Trim the stalks from the fennel bulbs and reserve. Trim the root ends from the fennel bulbs and then slice the bulbs in half. Using the center of the bulbs to keep the segments intact, slice into thin wedges – you’ll want them to be thin enough to caramelize and then toss with the pasta later. Place the fennel in a good sized, heavy-bottomed roasting tin (stove top safe), along with the chicken neck if they’ve included it with your chicken, and toss with a generous glug of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

Clear an area in the center of the pan for the chicken. Pat dry the chicken with paper towels and use a sharp knife to slice through the thigh and leg meat in 3 – 4 places on each side. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Quarter one on the lemons and place in the cavity along with the fennel stalks and 2 stalks of rosemary. Rub the skin with olive oil and season with plenty of salt and pepper, being sure to rub some into the cuts you’ve made in the thighs and legs.

Place the pan in the center of the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 F (180 C, gas mark 4) and roast for an hour and 15 minutes more or until the legs move freely in their joints and the juices run clear.

Meanwhile, boil some water and pour it over the raisins. Allow them to soak for 30 minutes. Place a small sauté pan over very low heat and toast the pine nuts, stirring often. They burn very easily, so don’t walk away, and remove them from the metal pan as soon as they’re lightly golden and fragrant.

Lift the chicken from the pan and allow to rest and cool at least 15 minutes on a plate to catch the juices. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fennel out and reserve in a bowl. Leave the chicken neck in the pan and set it on the stove top. Add the wine, and turn the heat to high. Allow the wine to reduce by half, using a spoon or metal spatula to help loosen the fond – all those caramelized juices are where the best flavor is. Drain the raisins and add along with the minced rosemary, along with any juices that have collected in the plate the chicken is resting on. Then add 2 cups of best quality chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to reduce by half again. Remove the chicken neck and discard. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper. Then remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, use your hands, two forks, whatever works, to shred all of the chicken flesh and skin into bite-sized pieces. Be sure not to let any of the juices escape. Add to the juices in the pan. You can hold the sauce like this up to 3 days. Remember meat braises tend to develop better flavor overnight, and this is no bad thing.

When you’re ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Heat the chicken sauce in a large pan if it’s cooled. Be careful not to bubble too long and lose too much liquid. You can always top it up with more hot chicken stock if the sauce gets too dry (the pasta can soak up quite a bit of sauce) – just be sure to recheck the seasoning. Add the pasta to the water and cook until just al dente and then drain.

Meanwhile mince the fennel fronds or parsley.

When the pasta is done, add the juice of a lemon to the chicken, check the seasoning one more time with more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if necessary, and add the pasta to the chicken, tossing to combine. Add half the pine nuts and most of the minced herbs. Plate immediately (if the sauce sits too long on the pasta, too much will be absorbed and the pasta will dry out, though you can always freshen it with more stock). Garnish with the remaining pine nuts and herbs and serve immediately.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The October Harvest Calendar

The seasons are finally shifting. The mornings have gone crisp. And the first of the chestnuts came in this week.

The grape harvest is in full swing.

And winter squash have arrived in gnarled, multicolored heaps.

It's hard to believe right now that most of these crops will be gone by next month. Especially when late summer treats like my favorite string beans are still in abundance.

There's eggplant.



And corn.

The cauliflower is peaking.

The potatoes are in their last month.

And there are even a few plums still to be found.

But it's the prunes and tiny seckel pears that I've been buying up by the pound.

And quinces. Positively nothing says autumn like the fresh, earthy-floral perfume of ripe quinces hanging in the air. Put out a bowl of them in your house and see.

Just don't wait too long. All the damage from Hurricane Irene means the harvest of these and so many other crops is going to be more fleeting than usual. Many of the farmers have had to cut back the number of days they come to market this fall. It makes what they bring in all the more precious.

The River Garden's rosehips - something I look forward to all year - can only be bought on Fridays and Saturdays now. The farm lost about 85% of its crops in the storm. To support farmers as they continue to recover, keep shopping the greenmarkets whenever you can and click on the link for information on the Greenmarket's Hurricane Irene Relief Fund.

Crop notes are available in the sidebar harvest calendar over there on the right all month. The information comes from a guide published by the CENYC, which runs the Greenmarket & New Farmer Development Project. To familiarize yourself with what's in season where you live, I advise a visit to your own farmer's markets at least every couple of weeks. And ask lots of questions – no one knows which crops are at their peak quite like the people who grow them. To locate markets near you in the US, check the Zip or City Quick Search at Local Harvest.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Spiced Plum & Fig Frangipane Tart - A Ghost Story

The garden behind our house in Scotland seemed endless, though it wasn’t, of course, when I snuck back in a few years ago as an adult. It sat in the center of a small fishing village, after all, and the land stretched back towards the old graveyard. There were high stone walls, small apple orchards, a rose garden, gooseberry bushes, a great lawn that no one ever mowed so shortly as to stop its being comfortable to lie on, beds of bluebells that squeaked under your wellie boots in the spring, and a pergola, overgrown with ancient, prolific grapes and plums, that dropped heavy, purple fruit down onto the mossy flagstones below in the early autumn.

In the northeastern corner of the garden, just where the two banks of pergola met and the grapes and plums merged, was a dark, dank place inhabited by ghosts. I mean that quite literally, and I can think of several people who spent a significant amount of time in the garden and can corroborate. But even those who didn't see anything, who had no inclination to believe in beings so unscientific, could not refute that the corner was unsettling. A chill that wouldn't lift even on the sunniest of days, a certainty that one was being watched. We all felt it. Even the youngest of children would point to that shadowy place and name their fear. "A fox!" I remember one person almost too small to talk crying out.

The ghosts didn’t stop our friends from coming to play in droves, though, and to gorge themselves on our plums while the season lasted. The more friends that came, the more windfallen fruit was eaten, and the further towards this forbidding corner it was necessary to edge in the collection of the wine-dark, egg-shaped plums - daring just a few feet closer to the shadows, seizing as many as one could grasp before kicking out, bolting back to the safety of the central lawn. Many years later, an unrelated search through the village records revealed that the same part of our garden had once been encompassed by the 12th Century parish church's graveyard. A mass grave for criminals.

All this is to tell how entirely the scent of ripe plum flesh; a whiff of wood smoke on the air as my father burned great piles of prunings; icy, chill-blained feet (I was inevitably barefoot in the bitter sea air, on those cold, damp stones); and a growing whisper of fear as the safe, sunny stretches of walk were picked clean of sweet, bloom-dusted, gently bruised fruit - these will always be autumn to me.

And autumn it is. Needless to say, this tart is not nearly so sinister, but rather undeniably comforting, warming and irresistible as the harvest reaches its height and the days draw in. Ginger and star anise both set off plums and figs, enhancing their perfume in a smoky way I find evocative of and perfect for autumn. Success depends on the ripeness of the fruit you use. The sugar content in plums is at its peak around here right now, and you can tell figs are ripe when the tiny opening at their blossom end starts to weep a drop or two of syrupy liquid.

Serves 8

7 oz (200g) flour
pinch of kosher salt
1 stick (4 oz, 100g) unsalted butter, diced
1 egg yolk
a little ice water

3 ½ oz (100g) unsalted butter
4 oz (125g) granulated sugar
2 oz (60g) flour
1 tsp ginger
¾ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground star anise
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 oz (125g) ground blanched almonds
½ lb (200g) smallish plums
½ lb (200g) ripe figs

Dry beans for baking blind

Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch tart tin that’s at least 1 ½ inches deep.

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt and butter until the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. (Alternately, you may use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients). Add the egg yolk and pulse quickly, then only just enough ice water to bring the dough together – too much will cause your tart shell to shrink as it bakes.

Turn the dough onto a cool, lightly floured surface and roll out just large enough to line the tart tin. Gently press into the tin and trim to make sure the sides are an even height. Chill in the fridge for half an hour or cover with plastic wrap and chill longer if needed.

Place a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 400F (200C, gas mark 6)

Remove the plastic wrap, prick the dough in several places with the tip of a sharp knife, line the tart shell with aluminum foil or baking parchment, fill with dry beans, and place onto the hot baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, remove from the oven, and carefully remove the beans along with their parchment or foil. Return to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until dry to the touch.

Meanwhile, use a kitchen mixer to beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla. Meanwhile sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, and star anise. Remove the bowl from the food processor and use a spatula to gently fold in the ground almonds and flour. Spoon the frangipane filling into the tart shell and smooth with the back of a spoon.

Cut the plums in half lengthwise and remove the stones. Trim the stems from the figs and cut crosses into the tops. Gently squeeze the bases of the figs to open the “petals” you’ve created. Arrange over the almond filling, plums cut-side down and figs cut-end up in whatever pattern or lack thereof that you like. Gently place the tart onto the hot baking sheet and bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until the frangipane is risen, golden, and just set in the middle. Remove from the oven and cool at least 15 – 20 minutes before serving.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fresh Figs with Fleur de Sel, Aged Balsamic & Hazelnuts

Nursery school just began, and I am proving even less adept at the transition than previous evidence had suggested I might be. I have a few things in the works, but in the meantime, can I just say that the figs are magnificent this year? Nary a tannic, dry disappointment in sight. I've been making this dish a lot - tonight actually as dinner in its entirety, along with a fresh wedge of Cantalet and a glass of Malbec. It was soul-restoring perfection.

Although Spanish and Portuguese missionaries brought figs to the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries, the fruit wasn’t really grown in Northeastern U.S. until the 1800s when Mediterranean families moving to the States nursed cuttings all the way across the Atlantic to plant in their new gardens. These days locally grown fruit is available for a small window each year, though it’s still rare to see figs at a farmer’s market here. The harvest tends to come a little later than in the northern Mediterranean – it usually starts towards the end of August or in early September.

I like my fresh figs with as little done to them as possible. In fact, I far prefer them raw to cooked. Though I’m often tempted to try new fig recipes, I have yet to be convinced that there is any way to improve on the light sweetness of a perfectly ripe fruit – perhaps slightly split by its own fecundity and often weeping a little honeyed nectar from its blossom end. Ferociously pink and very nearly liquid within, and with a floral fragrance reminiscent of both blossoms and earth, tree-ripened figs are something I dream of all year. And I can’t see why I’d want to mask their perfection with cooking.

Of course, when celebrating such a short and longed-for harvest, it’s only human nature to feel an urge to adorn. So I’ve come up with a number of preparations that make a platter of fresh figs seem more of an event – why isn’t this country more comfortable with serving a bowl of perfectly ripe seasonal fruit at the end of a meal? Why doesn’t it seem like enough to most of us?

I’m not sure, but this is my compromise. The syrupy twang of good aged balsamic vinegar and the gently floral flavor of fleur de sel meld with the juicy interior of the opened figs. And the toasted hazelnuts layer a faint autumnal smokiness over the whole thing. It’s one of my favorite late-summer/early-autumn desserts and a lovely way to end a meal.

Serves 4

¼ cup hazelnuts
1 lb ripe figs (I like to use green figs here, such as Calimyrna), rinsed and patted dry
good quality aged balsamic vinegar – should be thick and sweet
fleur de sel or other good sea salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Spread the hazelnuts in a small baking tray or dish and roast for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them. Once slightly cooled, chop the hazelnuts or pulse them a few times in the food processor.

Trim any stems from the figs. With a sharp knife, gently score an “X” on the top of each fig, being careful not to cut more than ¾ of the way down the fruit. Press your fingers into the base of the fruit until the 4 “petals” you have created open to expose the pink center.

Arrange the figs on a platter. Drizzle with a little aged balsamic, sprinkle with a little fleur de sel, and finish by showering with some of the toasted hazelnuts – you may not need them all. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Fennel Sausages Roasted with Herbs & Cherry Tomatoes

It never ceases to amaze me how, towards the end of summer, my entire being seems to change course. I dream longingly of crisp mornings. I churn out baked goods at an irrational pace. I shop for corduroy. And most of all I hanker after richer flavors, ones that would never have appealed even a few weeks before. The market is filling with brassy, saturated colors, the flavors of harvest time, and unquestioningly my appetite follows suit.

This recipe - something I first had in the Arezzo province of Tuscany – is a perfect way to harness the more robust herbs and tomatoes of late summer. It offers up that jammy savor I’m suddenly craving, but with crops that are utterly of the moment.

The sausages in Tuscany tend to be bold, seasoned with garlic and plenty of the region’s wild fennel. Back in New York, I use the fennel sausages from Faicco’s Pork Store in the West Village for this dish. They’re sweet, flecked with earthy fennel seed, and are unfailingly fresh – one of the best deals in the city.

I like my sausages burnished brown, even crisp on the outside. If you prefer yours less well-done, remove them from the oven after 45 minutes and test to be sure they’re cooked through – they should be fine. These are lovely over some swiss chard or spinach that’s been sautéed in olive oil. The clean mineral quality of both leaves makes a pleasant note against the sticky, caramelized sausages and a twangy-sweet drizzle of aged balsamic added just before serving, but on nights when you’re in need of more sustenance, some white shell beans dressed in fruity olive oil are authentic and very good too. Drink with a Sangiovese to enjoy this as I did the first time. Last week I had it with a nice Ruffino, and the pairing was perfect.

Serves 4

12 sweet Italian sausages
2 cups ripe cherry, grape, or other small, sweet tomatoes
1 – 2 heads garlic, preferably rocambole, cloves separated but unpeeled
big handful fresh basil leaves
12 stems fresh thyme
1 tbsp fennel seeds
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C, gas mark 7)

Prick the sausages in a couple of places on both sides and place in a roasting pan (no need to separate if they’re still linked), with the tomatoes, separated garlic cloves, basil leaves, thyme stems, and fennel seeds. Drizzle generously with olive oil and a healthy splash of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper and then toss all the ingredients with your hands to combine. Rearrange in a single layer and roast on a rack in the upper third of the oven for 30 minutes. Turn the sausages over and then roast for another 30 minutes until the sausages are deeply golden and the garlic is soft inside its paper.

Serve hot over wilted greens and/or white beans with another drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or even better something more aged and syrupy.

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