The use of fruits in savory dishes was once common place in Italian cooking, as it was in European cooking generally. Giuliano Bugialli, for example, tells us that the original duck à l’orange was a Tuscan dish. But with some notable exceptions like mostarda for boiled meats and strawberry risotto, it’s become a rarity. So much so that some Italians I know find the very idea of dishes like ham and pineapple, or guinea hen and cherries, or even turkey with cranberry dressing absolutely revolting.
In any event, here’s another example of this rare kind of dish: Sausages and Grapes, or salsicce all’uva, a simple vineyard worker’s dish from Umbria and Tuscany. The combination of sausages and grapes may sound odd, even off-putting, but it actually works. The sweetness and slight acidity of the grapes cuts the richness of the pork quite nicely.
In its most basic version, Sausages and Grapes could hardly be easier to make. It’s literally just sausages sautéed in a skillet until done, with grapes thrown in for the last five or ten minutes. No need for a soffritto, as the sausages lend lots of savor on their own. The only trick, as for any sausage dish, is to make sure to cook the sausages over a gentle flame, sautéing them slowly so their insides are done by the time the outsides have reached a nice golden brown. And, yes, it is possible to overcook sausages—and there’s not much less appetizing than a dry and tasteless overcooked sausage—so don’t let them go too long. If you’ve used gentle heat, they should be ready as soon as they’re brown all over. If in doubt, prick the sausages; if the juices run clear, they’re done.
- 4-6 sweet Italian sausages
- 1 small bunch of seedless grapes
- Olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper
Prick the sausages here and there with the prongs of a fork. Don’t skip this first step as it prevents the sausages from bursting their skins as they cook and the stuffing expands.
In a large skillet or sauté pan, sauté the sausages gently in the olive oil until golden brown on all sides. Do not rush the process or the outside will brown before the meat inside is fully cooked.
While the sausages are sautéing, pick the grapes off their stems, then wash and drain them in a colander. When the sausages have browned, add the grapes and let everything simmer together for about 5-1o minutes, just until the grapes begin to soften a bit.
Season generously with freshly ground pepper and serve.
Notes on Sausages and Grapes
Obviously, with a recipe this basic, the quality of your two main ingredients will make all the difference. Best quality Italian sausages, made with pork and not too lean, are my favorite. I particularly like luganega sausages, the kind that are fairly thin and sold coiled in rounds, but they are almost impossible to find where I live, so I make do with ‘standard’ sweet Italian sausages. Still, I bet that the dish would work fine with other sausage types. Just try to find sausages with good fat content. Too many sausages you find these days are quite lean—I guess for health reasons—but it’s the fat that gives this dish its flavor!
As for the grapes, most Italian recipes I’ve seen call for green grapes, but red will do just fine. And while the ones I found in the market today were pretty large, smaller grapes are better; they taste sweeter and cook more quickly.
Some variations on this basic recipe for Sausages and Grapes call for adding a bit of onion to the sausages for extra savor, or a splash of wine—sometimes red, sometimes white—while the sausages are simmering. Some will have you cut up the sausages beforehand; this helps them to cook more quickly, and, I suppose, it helps the flavor of the sausage meld more thoroughly with the grapes. You will notice that the recipe doesn’t call for salt; it shouldn’t need any, as sausages should already be quite heavily seasoned, and salt would upset the delicate balance between the savor of the sausages and the sweetness of the grapes.