Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli is the Italian version of pork and beans. The dish has its roots in Tuscan peasant fare: it’s pure stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. Making it in the slow-cooker means that it’s an easy meal for busy weeknights.
When I think of pork and beans, a can usually comes to mind. Either the whole-shebang-in-a can (á la Van Camp’s), or canned beans with hot dog franks cut up inside. This latter was generally the option favored by my mom, who regularly served “Beans and Weenies.” This meal fell firmly into the “Meh” category for me.
I saw Nick Stellino making Salsiccie e Fagioli on Wisconsin Public Television recently. I immediately snapped to attention, because I knew that the authentic sausage and beans would be delicious.
I also knew that I could make the dish my own and adapt it to the slow-cooker. And thus, Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli was born.
Notes on making Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli
Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli IS a slow-cook. Thus, sausages lose some of the snap they’d have if you made it on the stove-top and cooked for only 45 minutes. If this is a big deal, you can add the sausages to the slow-cooker during the last hour of cooking time. But something magical happens to the beans when they cook slowly in the juices from the sausages.
There are a few steps to complete before you add everything to the slow-cooker: first, browning the sausages, and then building the base of your sauce. For this reason, I like to do these steps the night before, storing the sauce and sausages separately. Besides, letting the sauce hang out overnight allows the flavors to marry and deepen: win-win!
You should rinse and pick through the beans to remove any stones. In all my years of making dishes with dried beans, I have never found a stone. But it could always happen, so I am warning you in order to avoid cracked teeth and other mishaps.
I like to use dried navy beans in Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli (I’ve found that Bob’s Red Mill puts out a good product [I’m not an affiliate, just a fan!]). The general rule is to add 4 cups of liquid to every 1 cup of beans. For my version of Italian sausage and beans, I used 1 1/2 cups of beans and added 3 cups of chicken broth, a 15-oz can of tomato sauce, and 3/4 cup of diced tomatoes. The result was a very saucy (almost stew-like) dish that practically demanded a crusty chunk of bread for dipping and mopping.
Spicy Italian sausages are my favorite for Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli; if you’re heat-averse, you can use mild or even sweet. I used pork, but you could just as easily use turkey or chicken sausage to make the dish leaner.
Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli: flavor-building hacks
I speak elsewhere on the site about some great hacks that build a ton of flavor into sauces and soups in short order (for example, in my Slow-roasted Tomato Sauce recipe). Some are absolutely not authentic; you can take them or leave them.
Flavor-Building Hack #1
After the aromatics are sautéed and translucent, I add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste, mixing it in with the aromatics until its color deepens as it caramelizes slightly.
Flavor-Building Hack #2
This is really where I’m going to lose some of you (or get snobby comments). I sprinkle the contents of my pot with a couple tablespoons of Asian fish sauce. Yep, I said it. AND, I wish I could say that I was the first to think of this, but I’m definitely not.
You know how some sauces in Italian cuisine call for anchovy fillets? You slowly, slowly melt them down in some olive oil or butter until they’re no longer recognizable as anchovy fillets. Your sauce gains an indescribable, luscious umami taste?
I’ll give you three seconds to guess what the main ingredient in Asian fish sauce is. [Checks watch] If you guessed anchovy extract, you’re right! Someone already did that painstaking work for us, so it’s a simple matter of adding it to the pot. I reduce the fish sauce down to almost nothing and then add wine to deglaze the pan. Anchovy paste would be a perfectly acceptable substitution for fish sauce.
Work-ahead method for making Slow-Cooker Salsiccie e Fagioli
The night before…
The night before I plan on putting the Salsiccie e Fagioli into the slow-cooker, I brown the sausages well on each side. Then I remove them to a plastic-wrap-covered plate for safekeeping in the fridge overnight. I add a pinch of pepper flakes to the pot and sauté the aromatics. I use chopped Vidalia onion, which adds a nice sweetness to the sauce, and coarsely chopped garlic.
Next, I add in some herbs: a sprig of rosemary, a few sage leaves, and a bay leaf. Then I add and caramelize the tomato paste, followed by the fish sauce trick we discussed before. Then I deglaze the pan. After that, it’s a simple matter of stirring in the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Afterward, I take the pot off the heat, lid it, and let it cool for a while before putting in the fridge overnight. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.
The next morning…
I rinse and pick over the beans and add them to the pot. Then I add the chicken broth, stir in the sauce from last night, nestle the sausages on top, add several grinds of black pepper, and fire up the slow-cooker (low setting). Then I walk away for 8 hours.
Check the liquid level!
The great part about any slow-cooker dish with beans is that you can start with dry beans. No pre-soak is necessary. The beans will suck up most of the liquid in the slow-cooker, leaving you with a luscious, tomato-ey sauce. With that being said, check the liquid level whenever you return from doing what you do. If the beans look too dry (this will vary by slow-cooker), just add a bit of warm water. Also check the seasoning: I usually add about 1/2 tsp. of salt. But keep in mind that some sausages are quite salty to begin with: proceed with caution.
We like to cut up the sausages and eat the dish like a stew with a sprinkling of parsley and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese for serving. Serve with some nice, crusty bread and enjoy!
- 2 lbs. spicy or mild Italian sausage links (you can use pork, chicken, or turkey)
- 1 medium Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 15- oz. can tomato sauce
- 3/4 cup diced tomatoes, drained (you can use canned or fresh)
- 2 tbsp. fish sauce, optional
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 sprig sage (3 leaves)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cups dry navy beans
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 2 tsp. Italian herb mix (optional)
- Chopped Italian parsley, for garnish (optional)
- Shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the sausages and brown well on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove sausages to a plate, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the onion and garlic; sauté until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste; sauté—stirring slowly but steadily— until the paste darkens slightly in color, about 1 minute. Add the rosemary, sage, and bay leaf to the pot.
Raise the heat to high. Add in the fish sauce; stir until the sauce is reduced until almost nothing. Add the wine and reduce by half, while scraping up any brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce; stir to combine and remove pot from heat. Allow pot to cool for 20 minutes, then lid and refrigerate overnight.
Rinse and pick through the beans, removing any stones. Add to the crock of a slow-cooker. Add the tomato mixture to the crock; stir to combine. Add the chicken broth, Italian herb mix (if using), and several grinds of black pepper; stir. Add the sausages and any accumulated juices (the sausages will be mostly—if not completely—submerged in the liquid). Set the slow-cooker on low for 8 hours.
Check the liquid level of the beans at 7 hours: if more liquid is needed, stir in up to a cup of water. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed (I usually add 1/2 teaspoon of salt at this point).
Serve with shavings of Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of Italian parsley with crusty bread on the side.
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