This is a great recipe for a family meal/weeknight dinner. It is healthy & easy to make. Lots of herbs & vegetables & pulses make this a really nutritious & satisfying meal. Actual hands on cooking time is not that long it just needs to be left to simmer.
I am posting it for my sister Katie who hates cooking & is trying to do more of it to cut down on processed food. She used to use lots of sauces from jars but the Jamie Oliver horrified her in his Sugar Rush programme. He showed a jar or stir fry sauce which had 20 teaspoons of sugar in it for 2 people.
We all think of stir fry as a healthy meal but it can’t be with 10 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Food labels are notoriously difficult to understand & can be misleading which is why she had no idea how much sugar she was consuming from these things. Processed foods also contain lots of additives which alter the bacteria in our guts causing all kinds of health problems. On learning this Katie decided to prepare more fresh food even though she hates doing it.
I have been showing her how to make some simple things which you can make in large batches & put in the freezer such as curry sauces & stews. This is her favourite so far. I have to say I usually do not eat many sausages (I don’t like what is added to them) but we bought some good quality Italian sausages from an online butcher & they are delicious. I made this casserole for Katie because it is easy, economical, nutritious & satisfying. It also freezes really well so she can make a batch of 4-5 portions and freeze them.
The cooking method can be as simple as putting everything in a slow cooker & leaving it to work its magic while you are doing other things. I make it on the stove top as I don’t have a slow cooker.
The ingredients list looks long but is mainly vegetables & herbs. They can be changed around depending on what you have available & prefer. I used pre-soaked beans rather than canned ones but either is fine. Dried beans are cheaper but require forethought & a little extra cooking.
Italian Sausage & Bean Stew
Ingredients (Serves 4-5):
The important ingredient in this dish is the sausages. They should be proper Italian sausage flavoured with fennel. I used some with chilli which gives a gentle heat the the sauce but that is personal preference. They sausage is going to give most of the flavour so if they are not good quality it wont taste as delicious. Italian sausage is more coarse than English ones & keeps a great texture even when cooked for a long time. I used the herbs I had available. They do not have to be the same but it is nice to use some woodier herbs which go in at the beginning & then garnish with some fresh leaves, parsley would be great on this but I didn’t have any. If you prefer a thicker sauce use flour (1 tbsp) or cornstarch (2 tbsp) mixed with water to thicken.
Splash of olive oil or butter or lard
1 medium onion
2 stalks celery
1 tsp fennel seeds
2-3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
1 sprig rosemary (or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary)
1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 tsp fresh thyme)
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp white balsamic or white wine vinegar
1 can of tomatoes or 4 fresh tomatoes & 2 tbsp tomato paste
200g dried beans (or 1-2 tins beans)
8-10 links of Italian Sausage
1/2 butternut squash or a small sweet potato (cubed 1″)
1-2 peppers (any colour)
salt & pepper
Fresh sage (about 10 leaves)
Fresh basil (handful)
Fresh marjoram (handful)
1. Slice the onion & celery & start it frying gently in the oil or lard with the fennel seeds & a tiny pinch of salt.
2. Slice the garlic, carrot & prep the rosemary & thyme. Slice the fresh tomatoes if you are using those.
3. Depending on how much time you have fry the onions as long as you want. I fry them for about 20 minutes until they are really soft & sticky. This sweetness balances the acidic tomato in the sauce. If you do not have the time or patience (I am thinking of you Katie) just fry them for a couple of minutes & add half a teaspoon of sugar).
4. Add the garlic, thyme, rosemary & bay leaf & continue frying for 2-3 minutes then add the vinegar, tomatoes & carrots. Bring to the boil.
If you used fresh tomatoes & have the vine then add this to the pot – one of my fave Heston Blumenthal tips – it adds complexity to the sauce
5. At this point the cooking method depends on whether you are using dried or pre-cooked beans. If they are not cooked then add them now, cover the whole thing with water & simmer for about 60 minutes until the beans are more or less cooked. If using pre-cooked skip this step.
6. Slice the sausage into 2″ pieces & add them along with the squash. Add about 1/2 tsp salt & a good crack of pepper. Simmer gently for half an hour then add the softer vegetables, peppers & courgette.
* If using tinned beans, drain them & add now.
7. Simmer for another 30-60 minutes until everything is cooked & soft. You may need to add extra water as the beans absorb the cooking liquid. Taste for seasoning & stir in the sage. Take off the heat.