1 pound ground pork: $4
1 cup French green lentils: $1
1 carrot: $0.25 1 stalk celery: $0.20 1 onion: $0.50
Pantry items: Salt, pepper, fennel seeds, garlic, chile flakes, vinegar, olive oil, mustard.
Total cost (for 3 portions): $5.95
One day this summer when everything was in disarray--we had just moved from New York to California with an insatiably curious and surprisingly locomotive baby--I broke down and bought hot dogs to heat up for dinner. "And so it begins," I thought, shoveling minced frankfurter into a mouth accustomed to homemade purées, "our descent into dinners dictated by family chaos."
But since I can't seem to stop planning life around dinner instead of the other way around (and since, to be honest, the hot dogs weren't half bad), soon enough I was thinking, "I should make my own sausage for last-minute dinners!" When I mentioned this plan to Andrew, his worried glance at our mountains of laundry and unpacked boxes forced me to acknowledge that making more of our food from scratch, though gratifying, would not actually be a time-saver.
How glad I was, then, to find this recipe for simple homemade sausage in The Art of Simple Food. It's a free-form sausage that invites all kinds of experimentation with seasoning, and it actually doesn't take any longer than hot dogs (except for washing up the bowl at the end). I think it is especially nice with lentil salad from the same book, but I'll be using it lots of places from now on--certainly anywhere I had been using $6-a-pound Italian sausage from the supermarket.
To stretch these quantities to serve four (or three extremely hungry) people, you could roast a pound or two of potatoes to serve on the side without breaking your eight-dollar budget.
Simple Fennel Sausage
- makes 1 pound -
- 1 pound ground pork, preferably shoulder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted and lightly pounded
- 2 garlic cloves, pounded to a purée
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes
- 1 cup French green lentils
- 1 tablespoon sherry (or red wine) vinegar plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced quite small
- 1 stalk celery, washed and diced quite small
- About 1/4 cup quite-small-diced onion
Using your hands, lightly mix together all ingredients. Distribute seasonings evenly, but avoid mashing the meat. Make a small patty of meat, fry it in a small skillet, and taste; adjust the seasoning as needed.
I made 12 small patties by taking scoops of sausage a little larger than golf balls and patting them about 1/2 inch thick with my hands. Then I fried them in a dry, hot skillet for about 5 minutes per side, until they developed a beautiful brown crust and were cooked through.
Pick through the lentils for sticks and stones. Rinse and dump into a pot; cover with water by 3 inches and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook until tender all the way through, adding more water if necessary, about 30 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt halfway through cooking.
When tender, drain the lentils and toss with the tablespoon of vinegar and some freshly ground pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt and vinegar if needed. Stir in the mustard and 3 tablespoons olive oil.
Heat the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over a medium flame. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and cook until tender, 5 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir the vegetables into the lentils and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature.