As much as I love a long Sunday afternoon in the kitchen surrounded by my farmer’s market bounty, I dislike weeknight cooking. It’s not that I mind standing at the stove after working all day – the actual cooking I can still enjoy. The challenge is in finding something to make for dinner when I’ve gotten home at 7:30 that takes under an hour to prepare, that doesn’t create another hour’s worth of dishes, that says, “I love you” instead of, “oh, just eat it.”
I added a new weeknight special recently and it does more than tick the aforementioned boxes. It’s the kind of dish that is comforting and kind at the end of a long day, that feels hearty on a cool night, and that can be on the table in 40 minutes flat. It has that lasagne feeling but with significantly less guilt.
This recipe is adaptable – I’ve used Italian sausage, andouille sausage, and both pork and chicken sausages with good results. The quality of the individual ingredients is key because there are so few of them. For the sauce, I either use my own or a higher-end jarred sauce called Rao’s, which is silky and extremely flavorful. For the beans, I prefer to use dried, which I prepare (method below) and freeze in 1-2 cup portions in storage bags. I think they hold up better in this dish than canned, but if you only have canned, give it a shot and just be gentle with them so they don’t turn to mush.
I tried over and over again to show you this dish plated in all of its glory, but there is no polite pictures of a sausage.
Sausages with White Beans and Tomato Sauce
4 sweet or spicy Italian sausages
3 cups large whites beans (dried, cooked)
3 cups homemade or good quality jarred tomato sauce
½ c herbed breadcrumbs (recipe below)
3 TBS grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a 3 ½ quart dutch oven or medium sized skillet, brown your sausages until they have some good color. There’s no need to cook them through, they’ll finish in the oven. Add your sauce and the beans and bring them just to a simmer. Top the with the bread crumbs and cheese and bake for 25 minutes until bubbling and brown.
Serve with a greens salad and a lovely glass of wine.
Cooking note: If you’ll be preparing this in a baking dish that isn’t flame proof, brown your sausages in a skillet. Move them to the baking dish and warm your sauce through in the skillet. Pour the heated sauce over the white beans and sausage, add your crumbs and cheese, and bake as directed.
I use this recipe as a base and add different herbs to top various gratins or pastas – with a little chopped tarragon and a small amount of Dijon mustard, you have a great topping for a zucchini and leek gratin. I don’t use these in my meatballs or in most places where breadcrumbs are used for binding; I like using these when they’ll have real impact in a simple dish.
1 Tbs butter
1 ½ Tbs extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp crushed red peppers
½ c wheat panko crumbs
½ Italian seasoned panko crumbs
3 Tbs chopped parsley
2 Tbs chopped basil
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
In a small sauté pan, heat butter and olive oil on medium-low heat until just staring to foam. Add crushed red pepper and swirl pan once. Add remaining ingredients. Stir occasionally at first. Once crumbs start to turn golden, reduce heat and turn more often until mixture is uniformly light golden brown. Depending on what you’re doing with these, they may get hit with more heat when added to a recipe, so you’re better off slightly under toasting.
I’d been wanting to switch to using more dried beans for some time – I feel like the canned products are really inconsistent but mostly tend toward the mushy. It was a bit daunting, though; I didn’t want to need 12 hours notice to serve beans or risk having them refuse to soften (there was a hummus incident once…) Then I read Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks recommend freezing the finish product for future use. From a comment on a Rhulman post about cooking dried beans I found I could skip the soaking and prep my beans in the oven. Now we’re talking.
1 cup dried beans, picked over and rinsed
4 cups water (or, four times the volume of your dried beans)
1 carrot, halved
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 stalk of celery, halved
Preheat oven to 275 F. Bring beans and water to a boil in a heavy lidded pot. Once they’ve the reached the boil, add the carrot, celery and onion and transfer the pot to the oven. Set your timer for 75 minutes and expect the beans to need 90 minutes, depending on size and age.
I’ve done this with Christmas limas and small white beans and have had great success. When they are finished, I drain them well, dry them as much as possible, and freeze them flat in freezer bags. If you freeze them flat rather than in a clump, they’ll defrost faster. Enjoy!