Monday, March 29, 2010

An Italian Sausage Bread Recipe for Easter (Or Anytime)

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My grandmother was a smart woman. 16 years ago when I announced my wedding engagement, she congratulated me, told me that Jeff and I were a good match, and then gave me this warning: "Don't let his mother get in the middle of you two. That's when the problems start. You know the way Italian mothers are with their sons." She knew of course, she was an Italian mother herself.

Italian men love their mothers. And they love their mother's cooking. The key to getting along with your Italian mother-in-law, therefore, is to praise her cooking.

Trouble starts when we attempt our mother-in-law's recipes, then ask our husbands whose is better. It's a deadly trap.

Ask an Italian guy who the better cook is, his mother or his wife, and he'll tell you his mother. That is, unless his Italian wife is present. In which case, he will answer that both his mother and his wife are wonderful cooks. Then he will point out dishes for which each woman is famous, such as his mother's lasagna or his wife's eggplant parmigiana.

Now, if the wife is a nice Irish or Polish girl, he won't even hesitate to say his mother is the best cook in every instance, or else risk excommunication. (Those poor girls don't stand a chance.)

I'm a nice Italian girl who loves her mother-in-law's cooking, so I've had a pretty easy time getting along with her. (Plus, unlike most Italian mother-in-laws, she actually enjoys and compliments my cooking which helps.)

Still, it has taken me nearly 16 years of marriage to attempt her sausage bread. Of all the beloved Italian dishes my mother-in-law makes, including chocolate dipped almond biscotti, stuffed squid, and Easter rice pie, her sausage bread trumps them all.

This Easter Sunday treat consists of sauteed hot Italian sausage, pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs, and parsley, all nestled inside of a crisp, golden brown crust. Sometimes the filling will overpower the dough and pop through. Not to worry. The melty cheese adds to the rustic look of the sausage bread.

When my mother-in-law was here last week, I asked her to help me make my first sausage bread. As she cooked, I asked lots of questions and snapped lots of pics, as the rolling of the loaf is critical. Pleasantly, it turns out sausage bread is really easy to make.

Just remember to use the best ingredients you can afford, namely Italian deli hot sausage, pepperoni, and fresh mozzarella. And be kind to the dough. Overworking it will weaken it and cause tears through which the filling will escape. If that happens, patch the tear with a little piece of dough.

When I served the sausage bread to Jeff and my in-laws last week, I knew better than to ask whose was better. After a couple of bites, though, my mother-in-law announced, "This  is delicious! It tastes just like my sausage bread."

I beamed the rest of the day.

Here's how to make Italian sausage bread like my mother-in-law:

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The egg mixture should be partially cooked, as it will finish cooking in the oven.

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Spread the egg mixture on dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. 

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Turn the shorter sides of the dough up on to the filling so it won't escape. Then roll the dough into a loaf, in a jelly-roll fashion.

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When you've rolled it 3/4's of the way across, grab the far end of the dough and pull it toward you, tucking in the egg mixture. Then flip it over, seam side down. Brush it with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper.

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Bake until the crust is golden brown.

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Slice the bread after it cools for about 10 minutes.

Jeff eating Italian sausage bread
Make your husband (or anyone you love) happy the next morning by serving him or her leftover toasted sausage bread for breakfast. 

Italian Sausage Bread
Makes 10-12 slices
Print recipe only here.

1 pound pizza dough, homemade or store-bought*
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage, removed from the casing
1/2 cup diced hard pepperoni
6 large eggs, lightly beaten, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 small balls of fresh mozzarella (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F, and center a rack. Roll out 1 pound of room temperature homemade or store-bought pizza dough into a rectangle about 10 X 12 inches on an unrimmed cookie sheet coated with a little cooking spray. Cover with a kitchen towel while cooking the filling.

2. In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add sausage. Using a wooden spoon, break up the sausage into small pieces. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until browned and crispy. Add pepperoni. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add eggs, mozzarella, Parmesan, and parsley. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring several times. The eggs should be partially cooked, and the cheese partially melted and stringy. Overcooking the eggs will make them dry. Let egg mixture cool for about 5-7 minutes.

3. Spread egg mixture on dough, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Turn the shorter sides of the dough up on to the filling. Then roll the dough into a loaf, in a jelly-roll fashion. Turn the roll over with the seam on the bottom. Place in the middle of the pan. (You can line the pan with parchment paper for easy clean up.) Brush the top of the loaf with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Cool slightly before serving. Eat hot or at room temperature. Wrap leftovers in tin-foil and refrigerate. Toasted, they make a delicious breakfast the day next.

You might also enjoy these Italian dessert recipes:
"Nan's Way: The Only Way to Make Easter Pies," one of my NPR pieces that includes recipes for Italian Ricotta Pie with Pineapple, Italian Rice Pie, and Italian Pizza Chena.
Here's a step-by-step post on how to make Italian Pizza Chena.
My dad's Italian Pizzelle Cookies
My mom's Italian Lemon Egg Biscuits

Here are a couple more versions of sausage bread you might also enjoy:
Sausage Bread recipe at SoupBelly
Sausage Bread recipe at The Teacher Cooks