Whether you prefer a sweet or spicy variety, there’s no denying the delicious versatility of Italian sausage.
The predominant flavor in ‘mild’ Italian sausage is fennel, or actual anise, a licorice like flavor with a little more earthiness. This emulates the style of sausages in Northern Italy, known for milder flavors with a noticeable presence of both fennel and garlic. It will also typically have a small amount of red pepper flakes to open up the flavors.
The ‘hot’ designation means a higher content of pepper flakes, or the addition of cayenne, giving you that spicier flavor that is more common in the southern regions of Italy.
‘Sweet’ is pretty straightforward, little bit of sugar, milder flavors around that, sometimes some mild herbs, typically a lot of basil and such to round it out.
In this meal, the layers of lasagna noodles blanket a creamy béchamel sauce and a filling with a savory ‘Italian sausage’ flavor and tender artichokes. Truly a comfort food meal.
Italian Sausage Lasagna
Drain artichokes (reserving oil) & slice in halves; set aside. In a heavy skillet, heat artichoke marinade oil; sauté garlic, onions & mushrooms for a few minutes.
Add ground pork, sun-dried tomatoes & spices. Cook over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; add artichokes. Remove from skillet & set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
In the skillet, melt butter over low heat. Once the butter is completely melted and bubbling, add the flour & mix well. Cook for a couple of minutes until flour just begins to take on some color.
Slowly start adding the milk, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, stirring often. Season with a pinch of salt, white pepper & nutmeg.
Set aside until you are ready to use, by pouring the sauce into a glass bowl & covering with a buttered sheet of plastic wrap.
Cook lasagna noodles. Grate cheeses.
In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish, spread 1/2 cup of the béchamel sauce on the bottom. (Set aside 1 cup of the béchamel sauce for the top.) Arrange a single layer of lasagna noodles over sauce; spread some of the filling over noodles, top with a sprinkling of the grated cheeses. (Make sure to reserve a bit of cheese for the topping.) Repeat layers, ending with noodles.
Spread the reserved 1 cup of béchamel sauce over the noodles & top withy the remaining grated cheese. Cover with foil, bake for 35 minutes, remove foil & bake until bubbly & lightly browned on top, about another 15-20 minutes.
Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.
No matter what the stuffing or style is, love for the empanada is not a difficult one to understand. They are cheap, easy to eat, transportable, and versatile.
Empanadas look as good as they taste; perfect food for a picnic. Eating outdoors, spaced apart is probably one of the safest ways to gather during the ongoing pandemic crisis. The great thing about picnicking is that you can do it practically anywhere you can throw a blanket down. If you can’t make it to a park or field, your yard, porch or any flat surface with a little grass (or sand), some sun (& shade) will do.
Empanadas can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They can be served as appetizers or snacks (hot or cold), but they can easily make a full and satisfying main course.
The very basics for an empanada are a combination of three things; dough, filling and a cooking method. The dough can be made from wheat flour, cornmeal, mashed plantains, potatoes, yuca, sweet potatoes etc. and the fillings can consist of meat, fish or vegetables. The cooking method is usually to be baked or fried although some can be cooked on a griddle or grill.
According to food historians, empanadas with seafood filling first appeared in a 1520 cookbook, published during the Moorish invasions.
I was real interested to see what I could do to make some salmon empanadas taste special. We found they were good as a hot meal served with the remaining ‘sauce’ or eaten COLD for a picnic lunch.
Salmon Picnic Empanadas
In a small bowl, combine sour cream & ice water; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, sugar & salt. Using a pastry blender or finger tips, cut in butter until mixture resembles both coarse crumbs & small peas. Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixture over dough, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. Do NOT overwork dough.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least an hour.
In a skillet, melt butter & sprinkle with flour. Allow to cook for a few minutes. In a bowl, whisk together broth, milk & soy sauce. Slowly add to flour/butter mixture, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Remove from skillet & set aside.
In the skillet, sauté salmon filet in 1 Tbsp oil until JUST cooked. Remove to a dish. With a fork, 'shred' salmon; set aside.
In the skillet, sauté vegetables in remaining Tbsp of oil for a couple of minutes. Add seasonings, shredded salmon, 1/3 cup prepared soy sauce & grated cheddar. Toss to combine; set aside to cool.
Assembly & Baking
Divide chilled pastry into 10 balls. Roll each one in cornmeal. Place a ball between 2 sheets of plastic wrap & roll into a 6-inch circle.
Divide filling into 10 portions. Place a portion on one side of the pastry circle, leaving about a 1/2-inch border (on filled side). With your fingertips, moisten edge of pastry with a bit of milk or water. Flip opposite side over filling & press edges together to enclose it well. Use a fork to make the classic look.
Repeat with remaining pastry & filling. Lay empanadas on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until pastry is baked & slightly browned.