Sausages — the fresh, housemade variety — are the key to easy meals. They're seasoned, so there's not much for a cook to do except add a few ingredients to the pan and — voilà — a one-skillet dinner. Make it for two or multiply the quantity for a large party.
Our butcher shops and co-ops are stocked with a variety of sausages using local meats. You may find duck, chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, as well as pork among their offerings. You want them to be made fresh, made by the butcher, not vacuum-sealed or filled with preservatives and "natural flavorings."
For this dish, I prefer sausages that are not smoked. The flavor of smoke tends to overwhelm the other ingredients. Save the smoked variety for the grill or to use to season soups and stews.
Fresh sausages are a cinch to cook. They require a little time in a frying pan set over medium heat. Turned every so often, they become a lovely golden brown. If you're in a hurry, simply simmer the sausages in enough beer (or water) to barely cover for about five to eight minutes and then brown them off in the pan before adding the remaining ingredients. Either way, be sure to prick the sausages all over with the tip of a sharp knife to prevent them from bursting open. Leftovers (if there are any) are terrific topped with a fried or poached egg.
This dish is seasoned with the fennel, garlic and red pepper flakes that define Italian sausage. For a bigger kick, go for the hot Italian version of the meat. A splash of vinegar gives it some snap. You might try substituting Merguez, the crimson lamb sausage of Morocco with musky notes of cumin and harissa, brightened with a drizzle of orange juice and a bit of zest before serving. We're going for bold flavor with little fuss.
White beans add creaminess, and the winter squash is earthy, sweet and colorful. Beans cooked from scratch tend to retain their shape in the skillet. But when I'm in a hurry, canned cannellini beans do the trick.
Vary the beans and vegetables through the year — try fresh lima beans or peas and carrots in the early summer, red peppers and new potatoes come fall. Pair with a crisp green salad and be sure to have plenty of crusty rough bread to mop up all those delicious juices in the pan.
Beth Dooley is the author of "In Winter's Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.