Sardinian Sausage Casserole
Travelling is a wonderful thing. It can change you. It has changed me. I've always had the urge to get out there and explore. You could say I've broadened my horizons but more importantly I've broadened my eating habits. I mean, that's the thing about being in 'foreign' countries where they don't serve the food you're most used to - you have to eat it! Sometimes it works out well and other times, like when you've had a suspicious beef dish in Mumbai and end up doubled in two, not so! Put you off your dinner yet? Italy is a whole different ballgame though - it's safe. What could be more familiar than pasta, cheese, meat, all the good stuff. Everything tastes so much better in Italy. The flavours are more intense, the pasta always al dente, the meat cooked to perfection. For me, it is food heaven. Yes, even France has to come second - a very close second mind you!
Okay, so let's not get confused, Sardinia isn't exactly Italy. As someone from Northern Ireland I understand the confusion people have when dealing with nationality and identity. So, I think I can understand where Sardinians are coming from, which perhaps explains why I felt such an affinity with the place and the food. I had the same feeling in Palestine too. Geographical proximity is a peculiar thing. Of course, Sardinian food has Italian influence by the bucketload, however, it's those small differences that set it apart.
Gnocchetti is the local pasta. It's been described as a smaller version of the potato dumpling Gnocchi but I think I profoundly disagree. There's no potato in it for one and whilst the shape is similar it most certainly is a pasta. I foolishly thought these little pasta shapes would be easy to come by because you can get anything you want anywhere in the world now, right? Wrong. So what does one do in times like these? That's right, one substitutes - or something like that! Orzo is the most similar and appropriate pasta that I could find and it really does work a treat. Again, this is a variation on a very traditional Sardinian dish but I don't think that really matters because it's impossible to recreate something like this without authentic local produce. We can, however, give it a damn good try!
6 hot italian sausages
3 garlic cloves
400g canned tomatoes
1 tbsp oregano
salt and pepper
250 orzo pasta
100g colby/monterey jack - or any good melting cheese
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees farhenheit.
Heat a tablespoon of canola oil in a frying pan. Finely dice onion, add to pan and fry for a few minutes. In this particular dish I think it's quite nice if the onion browns slightly:) Mince garlic, add to pan and fry for few minutes.
Skin the sausages, tear into pieces and add to the pan. Cook thoroughly until they are nicely browned - this should take around 15mins.
Stir in tomatoes, add sugar, oregano and seasoning. If it looks a little thick add some water - I fill the tomato can and add accordingly. Bring to a gentle simmer for around 20mins.
Bring a medium sized pan of water to the boil. Salt and add orzo. Partially cook (approx 6mins). Drain and leave to one side.
In a casserole dish layer the ingredients: sausage. pasta, sausage, pasta, sausage, cheese. Bake for 30mins until golden brown on top.
Allow to cool for 5mins before serving.