Pungent herbs such as sage and fennel have their finest moments in Italian-style sausage because they compliment the flavor of pork so nicely. Add a touch of garlic and a blend of black and red pepper, and homemade sausage moves well beyond the flavor and quality of sausage found in most food stores.
Many sausage enthusiasts might consider it excessive to add half a pound of mozzarella cheese to a sausage mixture that already contains so many wonderful ingredients. But I cannot resist the wonderful moistness that cheese adds to sausage, particularly when the cheese has the melting qualities of mozzarella.
Preparing this sausage at home does take some special effort. In order to effectively cook the sausage mixture, it must be packed into natural sausage casings. A trip to the butcher or supermarket to buy the casings will certainly be required, and it may be necessary to order them in advance.
In addition, you will need the nozzle (sometimes called a horn) from a sausage stuffer or some type of stuffing apparatus (many cookware stores carry these items).
Brief Processing Time
The food processor performs the remainder of the chores, which include grinding the blend of fresh pork, pork fat (unsalted) and cheese. The processing or grinding time is less than 10 seconds per batch so it is possible to produce 1 1/2 pounds of ground sausage in about 30 seconds.
Coarsely ground meat can be consistently produced in the food processor by beginning with thoroughly chilled cubes of meat, fat and cheese over which herbs and spices have been sprinkled.
I use a glass measure to scoop up 1 1/2 to 2 cups of (loosely packed) meat cubes that I grind with two-second pulses. After three to five (two-second) pulses (the number of pulses depends on whether the blade continues to spin after the motor is stopped), I put the ground mixture in a bowl or dish and repeat the process.
Unless you have a sausage stuffer, the easiest way to fill casings is by forcing the sausage meat through the nozzle with your thumb. This method also permits you to regulate the degree to which the casing is filled (if packed too tightly, sausages can burst as the mixture expands and the cheese melts during cooking).
Plan to cook these cheese sausages within 24 hours of making them. They can be double-wrapped and frozen for several weeks without flavor loss.
MOZZARELLA, SAGE AND FENNEL SAUSAGE
1 1/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cubed
1/2 pound unsalted pork fatback, chilled, cubed
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, chilled, cubed
1/4 cup firmly packed parsley leaves
10 to 12 medium fresh sage leaves
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 strands natural hog casings
Mix cubes of pork, fatback and mozzarella in shallow glass dish. Cover and refrigerate.
Insert metal blade in dry food processor. Process parsley with sage until minced, then with motor on add garlic and fennel seeds and process until garlic is minced. Pulse salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper into parsley mixture. Sprinkle parsley mixture evenly over meat and cheese cubes and cover (can refrigerate overnight).
Insert metal blade in clean, dry processor. Working in 1 1/2-cup batches, process meat mixture to coarse sausage consistency with 3 to 5 (2-second) pulses. Do not over-process. Set ground mixture aside. Repeat to grind all meat and cheese cubes. Fry 1 tablespoon ground mixture in small skillet. Taste to adjust seasonings, if necessary.
To stuff sausages, cover casings with cold water and soak 15 minutes. Drain, then fit one end of each casing over faucet nozzle. Holding each piece firmly, run thin stream of cold water slowly through casing to rinse interior, untwisting casings as necessary. If casing leaks, cut off section with hole. Return rinsed casings to bowl and cover with cold water.
Run fingers down length of 1 casing to remove water inside. Gather casing onto nozzle of sausage stuffer. Press some sausage mixture through nozzle to end. Pull enough casing off nozzle to knot end then pull knotted end back up on nozzle until knot is placed at nozzle's mouth.
Fill stuffer completely with meat and push mixture into casing with thumb (or use other sausage stuffing method). Casing will be eased off nozzle as it is filled. Be sure casing is evenly packed.
Repeat to stuff all ground meat mixture into casings. (If over-packed, casings can burst. If they break, cut piece off, remove meat and stuff into another casing.) Form coil of sausages of 8-inch lengths by pinching casing gently until mixture moves aside to create 1/4-inch space (this also helps remove air pockets). Twist casing several times and tie with butchers string. Use thin, sterilized needle to pierce casing as needed to remove any air pockets. Cover and refrigerate, without cutting sausages apart, for 24 hours to ripen.
To cook, rub sausages lightly with oil and brown in large skillet over low heat, turning once. Add 1/2 cup water to skillet and simmer over low heat until water evaporates and sausage juices run pale pink.