August 19, 2018 – I’m as busy working now as I’ve been in a long time. And it feels great!
Dividing the hours of my days among continuing to push for legislation in Washington, D.C., that is good for rural and Bush Alaska (good for all of rural America, for that matter), promoting my first novel, The Empty Mint Mystery (gordonparkerbooks.com), and going through the second book to get it ready for the publisher (watch for Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson’s next adventure coming soon!), there isn’t a lot of time left to create great meals.
But next to say, oh, a French 75 or some other equally delicious cocktail when the sun, as my Navy Seabee uncle always proclaimed, has gone over the yardarm, there’s nothing I like better than a good dinner. No, make that a great dinner.
So when time is short, I revert to the ’50s, that golden era of the casserole. They can be put together quickly using whatever is in the refrigerator or the pantry and they cook themselves relatively unsupervised. Perfect meals ready at the end of a busy day.
This dish starts, as do so many of my culinary experiments, with what in Louisiana we call the Trinity: onion, sweet peppers, celery. It’s our version of the classic mirepoix.
I like to season in layers, so the first seasoning occurs after the Trinity has had a chance to cook down a bit and the vegetables are beginning to soften. Use salt cautiously in this dish, however, as the sausages will provide a good bit of their own and the stock I used for the rice was also seasoned. Except for a light dusting over the Trinity, I didn’t add any salt at all.
I used a combination of uncooked sausage links, including plain pork as well as both hot and sweet Italian. Ground bulk sausage would have been easier but I seldom have that on hand. I wouldn’t deign to advise you on which to use. But I will say the effort to cut through the casings and turn the uncooked links into ground sausage is measured in seconds. It’s not that big a chore.
The hot Italian sausage added heat to the dish. But I wanted more. Real heat! And I thought a touch of acid would bring out even more of the flavors. So I added a handful of pickled jalapenos. Oh yeah! Now we’re talking!
I like to cook rice in a stock, or at least well-seasoned water. I used chicken stock for this dish because, of course, it’s what I had. Pork stock would be even better.
While we’re talking about stock, I never throw bones away. Chicken, pork, beef. Any bones go into the stock pot with some onion, celery, maybe lemon, whatever seasonings that sound good on stock-making day. There’s always a bowl of stock in my refrigerator. If you make it yourself, it’ll be better than you can buy at a store, not to mention cheaper.
And here’s a bonus she suggested with this casserole: If there are leftovers, make
sausage-rice patties and fry them up. Great with a fried egg on top!
So here’s my Spicy Sausage-Rice Casserole for the end of a busy work day.
Spicy Sausage-Rice Casserole
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 roasted red pepper, chopped
1 rib celery, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 pounds ground sausage (mixed plain pork, hot Italian, sweet Italian)
2 tablespoons pickled jalapeno, minced
1 cup uncooked rice
5 cups stock, boiling
Preheat the oven to 350.
In a heavy oven-friendly skillet or braising pan, heat the olive oil over moderate heat.
Saute’ the onion, roasted red pepper, and celery in the olive oil until the vegetables begin to soften. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.
Add the sausage and pickled jalapeno. Stir to combine. Break up any clumps of sausage as the meat browns.
Add the raw rice and mix well with the browned sausage and vegetables.
Pour in the boiling stock and stir to combine.
Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes.