The Sausage Strikes Back.

Hearty, yes. Healthy? Not so much.

Should I feel guilty about my blatant love of bacon?  Should I look at the floor in shame the next time I see a sausage?  I think not.  Sausages are awesome and the English are not alone in their affection for them.  The Spanish, the French, the Germans and even the Greeks produce their own types of sausage using a range of ingredients and techniques.  There are sausages on every continent and over four hundred and seventy varieties of sausage in England alone.  Among my favourites, Cumberland sausages stand out, but today I chose to use Linconshire sausages in a famous dish called toad in the hole.

I say famous, but it’s the title that has made it so, rather than the qualities of the dish itself.  Perhaps I’m being unfair because it can be a very tasty dish.  I’d love to tuck into this on a cold winter evening when the wind is whistling through the trees and the tiles on the roof chatter like teeth in the storm.  Ahem, where was I?  Ah, yes, sausages in batter.

Toad in the hole

7 Linconshire sausages

300ml cold water

1 onion (quartered)

3 cloves garlic (peeled and halved)

1 leek (sliced)

1 egg

130g plain flour

3 sprigs fresh thyme

3 sage leaves (sliced)

sea salt

pepper

vegetable oil

I’ll be perfectly honest, I had never made toad in the hole before this and there was a certain amount of trepidation when I made the decision to try it out.  How hard could it be?  Batter, sausages, cook until golden.  Surely everyone can manage that!  I decided to brown the sausages first in the frying pan before adding them to the baking dish.  It should be a one pot wonder, but I don’t like pale sausages.  I fried the sausages on the lowest heat for about fifteen minutes until browned and cooked through.  I then beat the egg with the water and made a thick batter by adding it to the flour and whisking.  I ground some black pepper into the batter.  For me, this is almost a reflex action and sometimes I have to stop myself adding pepper to things!  I had to prepare the herbs and vegetables which gave me some time to heat the oil in the dish I was to cook the toad in.  I chose a shallow, square dish, but it doesn’t matter too much as long as you can get all your sausages in and get the oil hot enough.  I set the oven to the highest heat possible and put the dish in the centre with enough oil in it to just cover the base.  The oil needs to be smoking hot.

When the oil was ready, I removed the dish from the oven, poured the batter in and then began to arrange the ingredients.  I started by placing the sausages in the batter and then spread out the leeks and onion.  Next, I pushed the halves of garlic here and there and sprinkled the sliced sage over.  I finished off by laying the sprigs of time across the batter and sprinkled a generous amount of sea salt over the whole dish.  This all had to be done in a matter of seconds so as not to let the oil cool.  Straight back into the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Once the top was golden and the onions beginning to burn, I took the toad out and served it with peas and roasted carrots.  Gravy?  Of course.

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Mushroom & black pudding ravioli.

Almost two years ago, my mum came round for dinner and I made a small starter of wild mushroom ravioli served with a little rocket and some crispy slices of black pudding. The combination of black pudding and mushrooms worked well and since then, lots of different ideas have been floating around in my subconscious.

The success of my first pasta attempts emboldened me enough to resurrect this flavour combination and see if I could make it work as a whole dish. Here is my recipe and a few photographs of that successful experiment. Is it something you’d eat?

Mushroom & black pudding ravioli with creamy mediterranean herb sauce

For the pasta-

300g ’00’ flour

3 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the filling-

250g chestnut mushrooms (sliced)

150g Bury black pudding

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tsp salt

For the sauce-

150ml double cream

large nob of butter

small bunch of thyme

small bunch of oregano

salt & pepper

I combined the ingredients for the pasta in a bowl and mix to a soft dough.  I then kneaded the dough for ten minutes until it was smooth and silky.  Then it was time to chill the dough by wrapping it well in clingfilm and putting it into the fridge for an hour.  I fried the mushrooms on a very high heat until they began to brown and set them aside.  Then I sliced the black pudding thinly and fried it at an equally high temperature, making sure to break it up and cook it until it was crispy.  Once it had cooled, I blitzed it with the mushrooms using a hand blender.  A little seasoning finished the filling.

Back to the pasta.  I don’t have a pasta machine.  I may well invest.  Apart from great results and inner satisfaction, rolling your own pasta also provides you with a workout.  Slightly out of breath (but no less happy), I made sure that I could see through the pasta before stopping.  At this point, I spooned the filling onto the sheet of pasta at regular intervals.  I used a pastry brush to wet all around the filling.  This would act as glue when the top sheet was laid upon it.

Ravioli waiting to be cut.

The hardest part was laying the top sheet over the filling and getting rid of all the air in between.  This is where the water helped to bind the pasta.  Pressing firmly around the filling, I pushed as much of the air out of the sides as possible.  This would prevent the trapped air expanding in the pan and bursting the ravioli.  Admittedly, as a novice, I hated this part of the process and was extremely relieved when it was accomplished.  I hadn’t done a great job of shaping the pasta sheets into regular shapes.  This made cutting a little tricky.  All went well, though one thing I’ll remember for next time is to leave less pasta between the filling and the edge of the ravioli.  Frightened of the ravioli not being secure, I left far too much pasta around the edges.

Fresh ravioli and some herbs from the garden.

I started the sauce a few minutes before dropping the ravioli into a pan of boiling water.  Loads of butter into a milk pan.  Chopped fresh oregano and thyme straight into the foaming butter.  Then the double cream with brisk stirring and a little salt and pepper.  More butter if necessary and then a gentle simmer.

The ravioli needs three or four minutes of cooking once it has risen to the surface of the water.  In terms of taste, the flavours all worked well and the creamy sauce softened what is quite a bold pasta dish.  In retrospect, I would serve two or three ravioli with this sauce as a starter.  It was way too filling as a main.  It’s a really distinctive dish and one that I’m proud of.  It’s certainly a great way to enjoy Bury’s best in a unique format.

A lovely dish, but so filling.