“Laws are like sausages,” wrote Bismarck. “It’s better not to see them being made.” Well, I know little of the backroom dealings that are integral to our legislative process but today I intend to pull back the veil on sausage making, at least my family’s sausage making, that is. And why today? Because Zia taught me how to make sausage and today is her 89th birthday!!!
Allora, buon compleanno, Cara Zia! Cent’ anni e tanti baci!
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For as long as I can remember, the Bartolini Girls made sausage and served them at any meal. They’d cut up a few, add some beaten eggs, and we had a frittata for breakfast. As kids, many is the time we had sausages instead of hot dogs for lunch while, for supper, the sausages were either served alone, roasted with veggies & potatoes, or cooked in a tomato sauce and served with pasta instead of meatballs. Truth be told, we were much more likely to have sausage than we were to have meat balls. Even after I moved away, Mom always made sure I had at least one container of frozen sausage patties to enjoy once I got home. And to this very day, whenever I make sausage, that first whiff of the seasoned ground pork is a trip on the Wayback Machine to my youth, watching Mom at work. Sure, there are many kinds of sausage available at the local groceries and butchers, not to mention the ethnic markets, but not a one reminds me of home. That’s reason enough for me to keep making these.
Now, for you sausage novices, there is at least 1 reason for Bismarck’s comment. You see, pork sausage requires a certain amount of fat, with some recipes calling for as much as 25% fat content. This recipe doesn’t come near that percentage but fat content is an issue. If you buy a cut of meat that’s too lean, like the pork loin I purchased early in my sausage making career, you will be very disappointed with the result. Look for a good, not too lean, pork butt roast when you make sausage. Even then, you may find that you need to add pork fat to the ground meat, although it wasn’t always this way. Years ago, pork products had a much higher fat content and one rarely, if ever, needed to add more fat to the mix. Then, without warning to our fellow sausage makers, hog breeders began to develop a leaner, healthier product and the “Other White Meat” campaign was born. Unfortunately, getting rid of the fat got rid of a good deal of flavor, so much so that Mom and Zia quit making sausage altogether! I eventually convinced Zia to try making it again so that I could learn the recipe and, at first, I bought some extra pork belly fat to compensate for today’s leaner pork. It worked, I learned the recipe, and all was well — or should have been. One fateful day, I attempted to make sausage on my own and over-compensated with the fat. What a greasy mess! After that, I quit using additional fat and switched to pancetta. For a 4 lb. pork butt, I use about a half-pound of pancetta. Not only does it add some much-needed fat without going overboard, it brings a nice flavor to our sausage, as well. Most importantly, Zia approved the addition. In fact, the picture to the left was taken at her home and that’s pancetta on top of the pork. (See Notes below for a tip on grinding the meat.)
When you look over our recipe, you’ll quickly notice that there is a surprising lack of spices used but, because it’s so simple, it can easily be modified to suit your tastes. Mom didn’t like fennel seed in her sausage but I don’t think she’d mind if you added some to yours. She, also, didn’t like her sausage spicy but I’m sure she’d look the other way if you wanted to add some red pepper flakes or a couple shakes of cayenne pepper. And I bet Zia would find it interesting if you were to, say, add a little ground sage or marjoram to the ground meat. As for me, I’m a garlic lover and have been known to add a couple of cloves of minced garlic, in addition to the garlic-flavored wine. And if none of those suggestions hit their mark, check out Greg’s recipe at the Rufus Guide. Just remember that no matter what spices you use and how much, be sure to start with less than you think necessary and cook a small amount of pork for a taste test. You can always add more if need be.
Now, one more thing probably should be mentioned. Some may be wondering where the sausages are, being this is a posting about sausage making. Well, you can blame me for that. As I mentioned, Mom always sent me home with a container of sausage patties after I visited and I grew to prefer them. Cooked on the grill, they are a great alternative to hamburgers. Not only that, but a patty or 2 can be easily crumbled for addition to a tomato sauce, meatloaf, pizza, or some other dish. Well, during one of our Sausage Days, I convinced Zia to just make patties that afternoon and we haven’t made a sausage since. If you’re a sausage person, however, feel free to stuff those casings!
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Bartolini Sausage Recipe
- 4 lbs pork butt, coarsely ground
- 1/2 lbs. pancetta, coarsely ground
- 6 oz dry white wine
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt, more or less to taste
- 2 tsp ground black pepper, more or less to taste
- At least 2 hours before beginning, place garlic and wine into a glass and set aside.
- Once garlic and wine have “married,” combine ground meats and spread in an even layer, about 2 inches thick, on a work surface.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper. Use your fingertips to create dimples in the meat’s surface.
- Strain the garlic from the wine and discard. Sprinkle the now flavored wine evenly across the meat. Begin mixing the meat until the seasoning and wine are evenly distributed. Recreate the meat layer and let rest for at least 30 minutes so that the flavors meld. (Caution should be taken if you are doing this on a hot Summer’s day or in a very warm room.)
- Once rested, make a mini-patty and cook it in a small frying pan. After tasting, you may need to adjust your seasoning. If you do add seasoning, let it rest 15 minutes before tasting again.
- Once the sausage meat has passed your taste tests, begin making patties. Place them in single layers on baking sheets and into the freezer. Once frozen, you can bag them or place them into containers until needed.
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Our preference is to grind the pork using the plate with the largest holes. This will create a coarse grind. When grinding meat for ravioli or cappelletti, use a smaller holed plate for a finer grind. No matter what size the end-result, you’ll find that your grinder, whether machine run or hand-cranked, will perform better and produce a more consistent result if the meat is cut into strips and partly frozen before you begin. Cut the pork butt into strips, layer them on baking sheets, and place them into the freezer for 30 to 45 minutes. Do not let them freeze solid or you will have to thaw them somewhat before grinding.
In a way, this recipe represents a milestone in the long and storied history of Bartolini sausage making. Never before were the wine, salt, and pepper measured so that they could be recorded in a recipe. It was always, “Grab some salt. Grab a little pepper. Put some wine in a glass. No, that’s too much. … ” To write this recipe, Zia worked her magic using wine and seasoning that I had pre-measured and placed in containers on her counter. When a mini-sausage patty passed her palate’s inspection, I simply measured the salt, pepper, and wine that remained. Still, as I cautioned earlier, start out with less spice than you think you’ll need. Be especially careful with the salt if you add pancetta to the ground pork, for its salt content can vary.
Just One Thing More
You didn’t think I would end this post without at least 1 picture of sausages, did you? This one is from the Bartolini Sausage Archives.
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