I wish you had seen the look on Andrew’s face when he asked what was for dinner and I told him “Sausages and Potatoes”. Was that a sneer or a recoiling? Was he horrified or merely surprised? You see, I had just that day received my copy of “Essential Pepin” (Houghton Mifflin 2011), the 700 recipe volume that caps the illustrious career of one the great ‘pioneers’ of good cooking in this country, Jacques Pepin. Surely, Andrew must have thought, you could do better than this, especially for a first choice in this incredible collection. Surely in a book that features virtually every French classic and an amazingly broad range of recipes representing Asia, India, China-- I could have found something more profound than sausage and potatoes. But it was a winter night and I’d espied some beautiful fresh Italian sausages at the market that day. And the whole dish looked amazingly easy.
When I say ‘looked’, I should have said ‘read’. Essential Pepin is pretty well devoid of the food porn images we’ve grown increasingly used to in today’s cookbooks. It should be pointed out that the great classic Cookbooks like “Gourmet Today” or the “Essential New York Times Cookbook” (we’re in that one, by the way) never have luscious food pictures -- just an occasional line drawing or black and white photos of something like how to truss a chicken. Chef Pepin’s book is one of those—long on instruction and detail, short on pretty pictures. Except for one major exception. The book comes with a 3 hour DVD that shows off ‘every technique a cook will ever need’—now that’s what we called a claim in Advertising. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of viewing the DVD but I did have the pleasure of the first recipe of Chef Pepin’s that I tried.
I have to tell you, Andrew loved it! Making the sausage into meatballs took away from the idea that this was some French version of “Bangers and Mash’, the English equivalent of Sausages and Potatoes. He couldn’t get over how delicious the dish was--the potatoes completely saturated with the flavor of the broth, the smoothness of the light, creamy sauce and, of course, the lovely sausage meatballs themselves. Chef Pepin uses hot Italian sausage, (I used sweet) and even includes a recipe for making your own bulk sausage. Since I was cooking for two, I cut the portions down. Here, I am giving you the original recipe which serves 6.
Recipe for Sausages and Potatoes adapted from Jacques Pepin’s “Essential Pepin”
1 ½ lbs Italian sausage, in bulk or links.
1 ½ tbsp.. all purpose flour
2 cups of water
2 ½ lbs of fingerling (or other waxy potatoes like Yukon Golds), peeled
4 medium onions chopped into 2 inch pieces (3 cups)
5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Jalapeno pepper, chopped, or more to taste (optional)
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Form the sausage into meatballs about the size of golfballs.
Arrange them in one layer in a large saucepan, add ½ cup of water and bring to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Uncover and cook over high heat, 1 – 2 minutes, until the water has evaporated and the sausages are sizzling in their own fat. Transfer the sausages to a plate.
Add the flour to the drippings, stir well and cook for about 1 minute, until the flour lightly browns in the fat. Add the 2 cups of water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Add the sausage balls and all the remaining ingredients, except the parsley and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and continue cooking about 45 minutes. There should be just enough liquid remaining in the pan to moisten the potatoes; if necessary, continue cooking, over high heat for 2 to 3 minutes to reduce the liquid and create a creamy sauce.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve.