It is very easy to find good, quality Italian sausage in the Tri-State area. Several pork farmers produce excellent products that can be found at local farmers markets.
Italian sausage is a style of pork sausage. It is usually seasoned with fennel seed, which gives the sausage a distinctive, slightly anise taste. Italian sausage is sold as mild or hot. The hot version contains red pepper flakes. Both can be used interchangeably in recipes, depending on the amount of spiciness you like.
Italian sausage is quite versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes. It can be blended with ground beef to make a mouthwatering meatloaf. Combined with peppers and onions and topped with cheese, Italian sausage makes a delicious sandwich. That combination also pairs nicely with pasta.
Soups and chowders benefit from the addition of Italian sausage. It can be added to turkey and chicken dressing. I have stuffed mushrooms with an Italian sausage mixture. It can be crumbled on top of pizza or added to spaghetti sauce. Lasagna is especially good when made with Italian sausage.
When garden vegetables come into season again, try stuffing eggplant, yellow squash, pumpkin or zucchini with an Italian sausage filling.
Last week, when temperatures dropped from the 50s to the teens, I took some Italian sausage from the freezer and made a comforting Italian Sausage Soup that warmed the tummy and soothed the soul.
The original recipe called for orzo, which is easy to find in local grocery stores. I substituted fregola, which I keep on hand. It is a hand-rolled, pre-toasted pasta made from semolina and water.
I purchase fregola at an Italian grocery store in Steubenville, Ohio. By using fregola, I was able to skip the toasting step in the recipe.
I liked the fregola in this recipe, because the tiny, bead-shaped pasta gave the soup a nice, chewy, rustic texture. I encourage you to try fregola, but, in the meantime, go ahead and make this delicious soup with orzo. While I prefer the nuttiness of fregola, the sleeker orzo is always a crowd pleaser.
Italian Sausage Soup
½ pound Italian sausage
½ red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, sliced
1 cup orzo or fregola pasta
6 cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can petit tomatoes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
Put sausage in 4-quart pot. Brown the sausage, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Drain any extra grease.
Add onion, garlic, celery and carrot to the pot with the sausage. Sauté for about 4 to 5 minutes until onion becomes translucent.
If using orzo, add to the pot and sauté until lightly toasted (about 3 minutes or as needed). If using fregola, there is no need for this step, since it is already toasted.
Add chicken broth, tomatoes and their juice, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.
Bring soup to a boil and reduce heat until the pasta is cooked. Serve warm.