I cannot say that I miss British sausages when I am away, but they are one of the consolations at the end of a holiday. First night back, it is bangers, beans and mash; quick, satisfying and comforting. What is more, we can get the whole lot from the late-night shop on the corner.

The quality of our homecoming sausages is unlikely to be high. They will probably be packed with cheap fillers and heaven knows what preservatives and colourings. But unless they are seriously gristly, even lousy British sausages can taste great at times.

When it comes to sausage-meat, however, I am pickier. The difficult thing about choosing good sausage- meat is that its appearance offers few clues. A fluorescent pink hue betrays colourings. But the absence of doubtful smell or vivid colour is no guarantee of quality.

You will, I assume, be looking for 'all-pork' sausage-meat or sausages (it does not take long to skin them). 'All-pork' means no other type of meat is included, and that there is at least 65 per cent pork, of which half must be lean meat. The other half may be fat (a decent amount is essential for flavour and texture), gristle, sinew, MRM (mechanically recovered meat) and other porcine bits.

The remaining content (up to 35 per cent) will probably include some filler (rusk), not necessarily a bad thing in moderation; seasonings, which are of course essential; and items such as phosphates, soya and milk proteins, antioxidants, colouring, monosodium glutamate and a host of additives.

You can ask about ingredients, additives and the provenance of the meat, but in the end it is largely a matter of finding a supplier with high standards. And it is not until you fry it up that you will see what degree of fat oozes out or how crumbly it is, or whether it has any texture to speak of. It is not until you sink your teeth into it that you can finally decide whether it suits your tastes generally.

When it is to be used as an ingredient among others, choose the plainest, highest meat-content sausage-meat available. That leaves you to add flavourings that fit the dish.

Herbed crepinettes

with red wine sauce

(Really just grown-up versions of cheeseburgers.) Lacy caul fat, which stretches out to form the thinnest of wrappings, is essential to hold the cheese in place and to gloss the surface. Order it in advance and freeze what you do not need in small batches. It is the perfect medium for enclosing pates and holding stuffings of all sorts in place.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lb (675g) sausage- meat

lots of fresh herbs, chopped

(parsley, a little sage, chervil, chives, basil, oregano, marjoram)

2 shallots, very finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped

4 slices Gruyere

4-6oz (110-170g) caul fat

For the sauce:

2 shallots, chopped

1lb (450g) tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped

1 bay leaf

1 glass red wine

1/2 tbs red wine vinegar

1tbs castor sugar

salt and pepper

Preparation: Mix the sausage-meat with the herbs, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Divide into four and shape each portion into a flat round patty, about 3/4 in (2cm) thick. Lay a slice of Gruyere on top of each, trimming it to fit. Meanwhile, soak the caul fat in water to soften it, if necessary, and squeeze dry. Carefully pull it out to make a large lacy sheet. Cut out four squares, each enough to wrap one patty in. Wrap up the patties or crepinettes neatly, cheese on top, edges tucked underneath.

Make a bed of shallots, chopped tomato and bay leaf in a shallow tin just large enough to take the four crepinettes. Sit them on top and pour the wine around them. Roast at 200C/400F/gas 6 for 35-40 minutes until cooked through. Transfer to a shallow serving dish and keep warm while you finish the sauce.

Add the vinegar and sugar to the juices in the tin and boil hard, stirring frequently, on the hob, until reduced to a nice sauce. Spoon a little around the patties and serve the rest alongside.

Sausage and apple pie

This is the kind of simple, countryish pie that I love. It tastes best hot or warm from the oven, but I suspect any cold leftovers will soon go.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients: 1lb (450g) puff pastry

1lb (450g) sausage-meat

3-4 sage leaves, chopped

2 large eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1 egg yolk

salt, pepper and nutmeg

Preparation: Roll out half the pastry and line an 8 1/2 -9in (21-22.5cm) round pie plate. Using your hands, spread the sausage-meat over the base. Scatter the sage leaves on top and season lightly with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Now cover with apple slices and sprinkle again with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Roll out the remaining pastry to form a lid.

Beat the egg yolk lightly with 1tbs of water. Brush the edges of the pie pastry with this glaze and lay the lid on top. Press the edges together to seal, and trim off excess pastry. Make a hole in the centre of the lid and then chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Put a baking tray in the oven and heat to 220C/425F/gas 7. Brush the pastry with egg glaze and pop into the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 180C/350F/gas 4 and cook for a further 30-40 minutes. Test with a skewer to make sure that the apple is tender.

Stuffed vegetables

Choose evenly sized vegetables and, when they are cooked, arrange them prettily in rows on a clean dish to serve as a substantial first course or light main course.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 6 small onions

3 small-medium courgettes

6 small tomatoes

chopped parsley

salt

For the filling:

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 shallots, finely chopped

4tbs olive oil

8oz (220g) flatcap mushrooms, finely chopped

12oz (340g) sausage-meat

2tsp fresh thyme leaves

2tbs chopped parsley

3oz (85g) breadcrumbs

salt and pepper

For the topping:

1 1/2 oz (45g) fine breadcrumbs

1oz (30g) freshly grated Parmesan

olive oil

Preparation: Boil the onions in their skins for 10-15 minutes. Drain and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Pull off their skins and carefully extricate the inner cores, leaving good stuffable cavities surrounded by sturdy onion walls. Save the innards and those of the courgettes and tomatoes when you get to them.

Halve the courgettes lengthwise and scoop out enough of the centre to form a shell (use an apple corer or a teaspoon). Sprinkle the shells with salt and turn upside down on a rack to drain for half an hour.

Cut lids off the tomatoes, scoop out the insides and sprinkle the inner walls with salt. Turn upside down on the rack to drain along with the courgettes.

Chop the insides of the onions, courgettes and the larger bits of the tomatoes.

To make the stuffing, cook the shallots and garlic gently in the oil until tender. Add the mushrooms and raise the heat. Cook down until you have a nice tender mass. Using your fingers, mix with the sausage- meat, breadcrumbs, herbs and chopped bits from the vegetables. Season generously.

Stuff the vegetables with this mixture and sit them neatly in an oiled oven-proof dish. Mix breadcrumbs and Parmesan for the topping and spoon over the vegetables. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Spoon about 4tbs of water around the vegetables. Bake at 180C/350F/gas 4 for about 40 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Serve hot, warm or cold, sprinkled with a little extra chopped parsley.

Comments