"In Italy you do not need a map to know where you are. Just order the sausage." Anonymous
In Italy there are many many salsiccia and salame, and each region has its special log of meat. The most famous are Genoa salami, mortadella, cotechino, and soppressata. Interestingly, there is no bologna sausage in Italy, the local sausage in the town of Bologna is called mortadella. There is most definitely nothing called "Italian Sausage".
But the term "Italian Sausage" has emerged in the US, and it has a specific flavor profile. It is a tube of coarsely ground pork sausage in natural pork casing, usually about 25% fat, with a distinctive flavor from fennel seed. It comes in three grades, sweet, mild, and hot. The main difference is the amount of hot pepper added, although some of the sweet blends include basil, and the heat and other seasonings vary significantly from butcher to butcher. It is sold raw, not cured or smoked, and it can be bought in 5 to 6" links, in coiled ropes, or loose like burger meat.
The origin of the recipe is uncertain, but Judy Witts Francini, a cookbook author, teacher, and culinary tour guide based in Italy, tells me that there is something similar in Sicily, which makes sense since Southern Italy is where most Italian-American immigrants originated.
Italian Sausage is a versatile ingredient and it commonly shows up on pizza, in red sauce with mostaccioli, in bean soups, and in bread stuffings. But it is in its greatest glory in Italian Sausage Sandwiches with peppers and onions gently fried in olive oil on a soft spongy roll dripping oil.
You can also make a meatloaf from Italian Sausage. Fry some slices in a pan and throw them on a pasta either with marinara sauce or olive oil and garlic. Stuff it into mushrooms. Make it into meatballs and grill them. Let your imagination run wild.
Makes. About 3 pounds or 9 (5 ounce) links or patties
Takes. 2 hours
2 1/2 pounds pork butt (a.k.a. Boston roast)
1/2 pound pork fat
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon American paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup ice water
Optional. About 4 1/2' of pork casings.
Optional. Some butchers add basil, and if you want it hotter, start by doubing or tripling the hot pepper flakes.
1) Before making sausage, please familiarize yourself with best practices as described in our article on The Science Of Sausage Making.
2) Slice the meat and fat into cubes removing gristle and sinew. Place it on a plate or pan in the freezer, along with the grinder parts that will contact the meat. Leave it there for about 20 minutes until it is firm but do not let it freeze. This makes grinding easier.
3) Grind it with a 1/4" die. Mix in the other ingredients.
4) Pinch off a small piece of the sausage and cook it in a frying pan let it cool and taste to see if the seasoning is to your taste. Form it into patties, meatballs, skinless tubes, or encase it in hog casings. You can then grill or smoke it, or store it in the fridge for about 5 days or in the freezer for about a month.