Italian sausage is a type of pork sausage that originated in Italy. It comes in two main varieties: sweet Italian sausage and hot Italian sausage. As the names suggest, sweet Italian sausage has a milder, sweeter flavor while hot Italian sausage packs more heat and spice.
Sweet Italian sausage is the milder and more commonly used variety. It gets its characteristic sweetness from the addition of fennel seeds, sometimes along with other sweet herbs and spices like basil, oregano, anise and parsley. The meat is usually a mix of pork and other fatty cuts like pork fat or fatty beef. It has a gentle flavor and is versatile enough to be used in a wide variety of dishes.
Common Uses for Sweet Italian Sausage
Here are some of the most popular ways that sweet Italian sausage is used:
In Pasta Dishes
Sweet Italian sausage is widely used to add flavor to pasta sauces. It provides a subtle, savory meatiness that complements tomato-based sauces. Some classic pasta recipes incorporating sweet Italian sausage include:
- Spaghetti with sausage and peppers
- Rigatoni with sausage and cream sauce
- Penne with sausage, tomatoes and spinach
- Baked ziti with Italian sausage
The cooked and crumbled sausage can simply be sautéed with onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomato sauce to quickly make a simple yet delicious pasta topper. It is also commonly paired with creamy alfredo or vodka sauces in penne, rigatoni or similar pasta shapes.
Sweet Italian sausage is a pizza topping staple. It is widely used on Neapolitan-style pizzas where its fennel-accented flavor profile perfectly complements the acidic tomato sauce and creamy mozzarella cheese. The sausage crumbles provide little meaty bursts of flavor in each bite.
Some popular pizza recipes featuring sweet Italian sausage include:
- Classic sausage and pepperoni pizza
- Sausage and mushroom pizza
- White pizza with sausage and spinach
- BBQ chicken pizza with red onion and sausage
In Soups or Stews
Sweet Italian sausage works great in hearty soups and stews. It can be cooked right in the soup/stew or browned first for extra flavor. The meat infuses the broth with its signature fennel, basil and oregano taste. Some example recipes are:
- Sausage, kale and bean soup
- Italian wedding soup with mini meatballs and sausage
- Hearty sausage and potato stew
- Tuscan sausage and white bean soup
In Casseroles or Baked Dishes
The mild, versatile flavor of sweet Italian sausage makes it a perfect addition to casseroles, savory pies, stuffed peppers, lasagnas and other baked dishes. The sausage adds hearty, savory flavor to fillings and batters. Popular recipes include:
- Lasagna with Italian sausage and ricotta
- Sausage and pepper stuffed shells
- Italian sausage casserole with tomato and mozzarella
- Sausage and fennel stuffing baked in peppers or squash
In Breakfast Dishes
While not as common as pork breakfast sausage, sweet Italian sausage can be incorporated into various breakfast recipes:
- Scrambled eggs with sausage and veggies
- Breakfast casserole with sausage, hashbrowns and eggs
- Sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches
- Sausage gravy and biscuits
Its rich, savory taste goes well with fluffy eggs and starchy breakfast staples like hash browns or biscuits.
As a Pizza or Sandwich Topping
Slices or chunks of cooked sweet Italian sausage make a fantastic topping for both pizzas and sandwiches alike. The browned and slightly crispy bits provide little bursts of flavor and texture contrast. Try topping these with sweet Italian sausage:
- Pizza (as mentioned above)
- Hoagies or sub sandwiches
- French bread pizza
- Focaccia sandwiches or flatbread pizzas
- Cheesesteak sandwiches
As an Appetizer
Sweet Italian sausage also shines when made into easy appetizers for parties or game day:
- Sausage stuffed mushrooms
- Sausage cheese balls
- Sausage bites with honey mustard dipping sauce
- Sausage and cheddar pinwheels
The flavor pairs beautifully with creamy fillings, sharp aged cheeses and spicy mustards.
Key Benefits of Cooking with Sweet Italian Sausage
Here are some of the key reasons why sweet Italian sausage is such a versatile and popular ingredient to cook with:
- Convenient – Sweet Italian sausage is widely available, easy to cook and adds lots of flavor with little effort.
- Budget-friendly – It provides an affordable way to add tasty meatiness to dishes.
- Flavor boost – The blend of sweet herbs and spices elevates the flavor of dishes.
- Meaty texture – It adds delightful texture contrast with its juicy, crumbly meatiness.
- Endless pairing options – Its mild sweetness goes well with nearly any ingredients from tangy tomato sauce to creamy cheeses.
With all these benefits, it’s easy to see why cooks keep coming back to sweet Italian sausage again and again!
Choosing Quality Sweet Italian Sausage
Not all sweet Italian sausages are created equal. Here are some tips for selecting high-quality sausage:
- Check the ingredients list. Quality sausage contains pork, salt, spices and not much else.
- Avoid sausages with a high fat content. Around 20% fat is ideal.
- Look for sausage without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
- Opt for sausages without added sugars or corn syrup.
- Seek out sausage from reputable local butchers or high-end brands.
- Fresh sausages have better flavor than pre-cooked. But pre-cooked can be more convenient.
Paying attention to the source and ingredients will help you end up with the tastiest sausage for your recipes.
Storing and Handling Sweet Italian Sausage
Follow these tips for safely storing sausage and keeping it fresh:
- Keep refrigerated at 40°F or below and use by “sell by” date.
- Raw sausage keeps 1-2 days in the fridge. Cooked sausage keeps 3-4 days.
- Freeze sausage for longer storage. Raw sausage keeps 2-3 months in the freezer.
- Thaw frozen sausage in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
- Cook meat thoroughly to an internal temperature of 160°F.
- Don’t reuse marinades used on raw sausage unless boiling first.
With proper storage and handling, you can safely keep sweet Italian sausage on hand to add flavor to all kinds of delicious recipes!
|Dish||Sweet Italian Sausage Uses|
|Pasta Dishes||Adds meaty, savory flavor to tomato or cream-based pasta sauces|
|Pizzas||Classic pizza topping that pairs great with acidic tomato sauce|
|Soups & Stews||Infuses broth with subtle sweet, herby Italian flavor|
|Casseroles||Mixes into fillings to provide hearty, savory taste|
|Breakfasts||Goes well with eggs, biscuits, hash browns|
|Sandwiches||Topping for hoagies, subs, focaccia sandwiches|
|Appetizers||Stuffed into mushrooms, cheese balls, baked in pinwheels|
Tips for Cooking with Sweet Italian Sausage
Follow these tips to get the most flavor and the best texture when cooking with sweet Italian sausage:
- Brown sausage before adding to dishes for enhanced flavor – sauté until browned and cooked through.
- Drain excess grease after browning to reduce the fat content if desired.
- Remove sausage from casings for crumbled texture in pasta sauces or stews.
- Leave sausage in casings for slices or chop into chunks to top pizzas or sandwiches.
- Undercook slightly in casseroles so it finishes cooking fully when baked.
- Add some Italian seasoning or fennel to boost the Italian sausage flavor.
- Pair with acidic ingredients like tomato or creamy ingredients like cheese or mascarpone.
With its versatility and savory-sweet flavor, Italian sausage can transform ordinary meals into gourmet fare. So next time you’re seeking ways to instantly elevate a recipe, reach for sweet Italian sausage and see how it gives your dish that extra something special.