Like many Italian recipes, this one calls for few ingredients, but they all count: fat sausages in a sweet-sour sauce of braised red onion and red and white grapes
Alastair Little puts it well in the preface to his book Keep it Simple: Simple food does not necessarily mean quick food, or even easy food, though it can be both. Keeping it simple means being pure in effect finding natural rhythms and balances, allowing the food to taste of itself. For years I had a Post-It with this quote written on it stuck to the top of my desk, until it was pulled off or lost in a move. It is an idea that makes so much sense one at the root of so much Italian cooking (and of many other great cuisines, too). It is an idea that drags us back to the raw ingredients and asks us, the cooks, to consider them, taste them, judge them, think about how they transform and work with other ingredients, and how we can bring out the best in them.
Idealising Italian food is tedious, and it is also not useful. What is to be admired, though, and therefore useful, is recognising the confident Italian ability to keep things simple and bring out the best in ingredients. Italian cooking is also chock-full of five-ingredient recipes: innumerable examples of well-honed, everyday brilliance that are as at home in the UK as in the Mediterranean what one friend would call light bulb recipes.
I sat for days with a list of my top 10 take five recipes on my desk, deciding on the final one in the most objective way I know: closing my eyes and pointing. The result could not have been more appropriate for this time of year, and also happens to be simple, relatively quick and a pleasure to cook.
Rarely, I think, is there ambivalence about cooked fruit in savoury dishes: you either like it or loathe it. If you loathe it, I dont imagine youll read beyond the title. If you are a fan, I urge you to try this recipe. Its somewhere between the Umbrian salsicce alluva and Sicilian salsicce al vino; sausages with a soft, sweet-and-sour sauce of braised red onion and red and white grapes. Like duck, good sausages with plenty of fat demand sweetness and slight acidity something grapes have in bucketloads. The dish also includes just a little chilli, which is an important dimension to the sweetness, as does the white wine, which balances the flavour of the sauce.
Now is the time for grapes: look for different varieties, more and more of which are being grown in the UK, especially in private gardens, grapes that are sharp as well as sweet, floral, musty, and also a mixture of colours.
Ideally, you want pure meat sausages, rather than those that include fillers such as rusk or breadcrumbs. Examine packets and ingredient lists and look out for Italian-style sausages, coarser-cut Lincolnshire or a coil of Cumberland ideally without any pronounced flavourings and seasonings estimating one to two sausages (150g) per person. Traditionally, this dish would be served alone, with bread on the table for soaking up juices. It is also good with boiled potatoes and, in a few weeks time, the ultimate in balance and pure effect: mashed potato.
Sausages with grapes and red onion
Prep 10 min
Cook 30 min
150ml white wine
2 red onions, peeled and sliced into moons
1 small red chilli (fresh or dried)
400g red or green grapes, cut in half and deseeded
In a large frying pan, warm a little olive oil and brown the sausages on all sides. Pour over the wine, cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until the sausages are cooked through. If the pan looks too dry at any point, add a little more wine. By the end of cooking, there should be just a little thick, glossy sauce.
Lift the sausages from the pan and pour/scrape the sauce into a cup: set aside and keep warm. You might well wonder why I dont cook the onion in the glossy sauce. You can, but I prefer to keep the flavours separate for now.
Add four tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and fry the onion and chilli with a pinch of salt until the onion is soft and lightly golden. Add the grapes and a pinch of salt, increase the heat, and cook at a lively pace for five minutes, stirring often, until the grapes start to soften and wrinkle.
Add the sausages back to the pan along with a spoonful or two of sauce, cook for a minute more, then serve, making sure everyone gets enough of the grapes and soft, sticky sauce.