Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Spicy Sausage and Pesto Scalloped Potato Bake

This dish is one of my go-to, easy, one-pot winter dinners. I make a bunch of versions of it, chorizo and spicy potatoes, rabbit sausage and parmesan potatoes, and merguez with paprika spiced potatoes, but this creamy pesto, Romano topped, spicy italian sausage skillet bake is my new favorite. 

S and I have both been working a lot lately, I've picked up a bit of work in Brooklyn and after a dark trudge through the cold and snow, and a train ride back into the city I relish a warm, hearty dinner that comes together easily, and this is just the dish for that desire.

I grew up in Northeast Ohio, land of the lake effect snow, so I like to think I'm pretty tough about winter. I ski, I walk to work when it's freezing and snowing, I generally don't get worked up about snowfall in the single digits of inches, so when I completely wiped out in front of the City Building the other day, it was fairly embarrassing. 

I was walking home from work on a particularly wet and chilly night, it was sleeting after snowing earlier in the day, and the ground was wet and slushy. I was wearing rain boots, good ones, with tread. I am not into impractical footwear. I was standing on a slight incline of a curb cut, waiting to cross a main artery of the Financial District, at rush hour, with lots of other commuters around when all of a sudden my boots started to slide, and before I knew what was happening I was slipping, and I sat down, catching myself with my hand and soaking my glove. 

As if that wasn't enough, I glanced around as I stood up to take stock of who saw that especially graceful moment in my life, when I caught the eye of an older gentleman waiting to cross the street with his wife, and he shook his head at me, not in a friendly we've all been there kind of way, but in a judgmental nice one, walk much? kind of way. Mortifying. I felt all my winter credibility fly away on the chilly breeze. I wasn't even walking. I slipped while standing still. Who am I to claim to have mastered winter, king of all seasons?

It's events like this that require hearty, rich meals consisting of potato covered in cream sauce and topped in meat. After embarrassment and cold city sludge on my gloves all I want is creamy pesto sauce and bubbly brown cheese.

I'm not sure I'd ever had creamy pesto prior to this dish, but it's lovely. The basil soaks into the heavy cream which thickens to a lovely sauce before going in the oven and then thickens more, soaking into the potatoes while the bake, producing a delicious bubbling pot of herby scalloped potatoes cradling spicy sausages.

I imagine you could sub out the pesto sauce for 2/3 Cup of any kind of pesto of your choosing. I recommend allowing the skillet to cool about 3-5 minutes before serving, to let the sauce thicken a bit more. Also, the more cheese you grate on top, the more brown, crispy, bubbly topping you'll get, so feel free to load up on the Romano topping!

Spicy Sausage and Pesto Scalloped Potato Bake

5 cloves garlic
2 C cream
3/4 C chicken broth
2 lbs potatoes 
1 loose packed cup of basil
1/3 C Romano or Parmesan cheese plus extra for topping
1/3 C Walnut halves
1/2 lemon
1/4 C plus 1 tbsp  olive oil, divided
4 hot Italian sausages
Salt and Pepper to taste

First, make the pesto. Place basil, 2 cloves of garlic, walnuts, 1/4 C olive oil, cheese, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon into your food processor. Blitz until ingredients form a green paste. Add more olive oil if too grainy and dry. Set pesto aside.

Slice potatoes thin, less than 1/4" thick, and set aside. 

Add the 1 tbsp olive oil to an oven safe skillet and heat over medium, once oil is hot, add sausages and brown on each side, about 1-3 minutes per side. Turn off heat, remove sausages and set aside, but leave grease in pan. 

Chop remaining 3 cloves of garlic and add them to the skillet, returning to medium low heat. Allow garlic to soften and release some of its flavor. After about 2 minutes, add the cream and chicken broth, while whisking to deglaze the bottom of the skillet. Add the pesto and mix it into the cream. Add the potatoes. If all the potatoes are not covered, add a bit more cream or broth. 

Turn heat to medium and when the cream begins to boil, reduce to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fairly soft. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees during this time. 

When potatoes are softened, remove pan from heat, arrange sausages on top, and grate a bunch of extra roman or parmesan over top of the skillet. The more the better. Place in the oven for around 40 minutes, until potatoes and sausage are cooked through and skillet is bubbly.

Allow to cool about 3-5 minutes before serving. 

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