Summertime is here at long last, and a trip to Italy is imminent. It's no wonder that I've got this particular dish - a family favourite for al fresco summer holiday dining - on my mind. It brings back the warm stone on the soles of my feet, the smell the wild thyme-scented air, and the ceaseless chorus of the cicadas creaking all along the Tuscan mountainside.
There's one evening that I associate strongly with this dish, when family and friends set the table outside against a backdrop of cypress trees and cooked up this feast for eleven hungry people. If I could spend my entire life eating fresh, simple food under the stars by candle and firefly light, laughing with my nearest and dearest around the table like we did that night, I would.
That pleasure doesn't have to be limited to magical backdrops and rare holidays, though. With a few simple ingredients, the right people, and the right attitude, you can recreate those beloved moments and brighten up your everyday life - even in the depths of winter.
Italian sausage bake with rosemary roast potatoes (adapt the ingredients as advised for the number of people you wish to feed)
- pork chipolatas or good quality, thick Italian sausages (three or four per person)
- one yellow pepper and one green pepper (roughly one of each for four people)
- cherry tomatoes (roughly one punnet/300g for four people)
- mushrooms (two or three per person)
- olives (roughly a cup for four people)
- garlic (roughly two cloves per person)
- lemon (roughly one and a half for four people)
- white wine (roughly one quarter of a bottle for four people)
- olive oil (generous amounts)
- salt and pepper (to taste)
- fresh rosemary (roughly a cup for four people)
- thyme or oregano (judge this by sight – a sprinkling needed)
- roasting potatoes (roughly three whole potatoes per person)
Preheat the oven to a temperature of around 200ºC/400ºF and put a large pan of water on to boil.
Prepare the potatoes by cutting off any bad or excessively knobbly bits, wash them, but leave the skins on. Chop them into quarters, and boil them with salt for about 5 minutes.
Fry the sausages in a large pan with olive oil for about 5 minutes, turning them over so that they start to brown. Then arrange the potatoes in a baking tray, tossed with generous amounts of olive oil, fresh rosemary leaves roughly torn up, and seasoned with plenty of salt. Put these on to roast in the preheated oven.
Arrange the sausages in another large baking tray or glass pyrex dish and roast in the oven with the potatoes for around 10 minutes. Then take the tray with the sausages out (leave the potatoes in to continue to roast) and arrange the tomatoes (cut in half), peppers (cut into strips), mushrooms (chopped into slices or chunks), olives (sliced in half) around the sausages in the same dish. Splash it all with olive oil, sprinkle about the cloves of crushed or finely chopped garlic and some salt and pepper, thyme or oregano, along with the lemon juice, and a few generous splashes of white wine over the whole thing, too.
Continue to cook all of this for around 20 minutes or so. Take it all out and serve when the potatoes look crispy enough and everything in the sausage dish looks like it is starting to go slightly golden. The juices will all run together and give everything a lovely, fresh taste.
It's easy to make large amounts of this dish, and it is perfect for large candlelit al fresco gatherings, or evenings indoors dreaming of summertime.
All photographs by Rose-Marie Caldecott.