ENGLISH MUFFINS WITH CHEESY SAUSAGE CRUMBLES
Salad for supper is an easy out on evenings when we both return home late and in no mind to cook. The greens are already prepped and ready to go, and, odds are, there’s a small jar of homemade vinaigrette kicking around in the fridge as well.
After all, lettuces, a cool-weather crop, are gorgeous this time of year. A blend of textures, from crunchy inner spears of romaine to wider, more tender varieties edged with bronze or red, makes a fine backdrop for summer’s last meaty tomatoes and a shallot dressing, for instance, or the earthier, more autumnal flavors of butternut squash, left raw and sliced into thin ribbons, nubbly florets of creamy-white cauliflower, and a generous drizzle of walnut oil. In the winter, when good lettuce is hard to find, I’ll often turn to cold braised greens—kale or beet greens with a ginger dressing, say, or escarole or broccoli rabe with a garlicky vinaigrette. Let the contents of your refrigerator be your guide.
Still, the key to a successful salad night is what you serve with it to round out the meal. There is always bread and cheese—a no-brainer, if a tad dull. And slow-roasted tomatoes on bruschetta are awfully nice, if you didn’t eat the last of them with drinks over the weekend. Then, of course, there are the treats above, which are based on a recipe from Sharon Logan, one member of my extended family; you can read about her renowned pecan pie here.
The vehicle for the unpretentious yet irresistible concoction of sausage and cheese is the English muffin. Both Sharon and I are big fans of Bays; the muffins (found in the refrigerated case at the supermarket) have great flavor and are nicely textured inside and out, unlike Thomas’, which are tasteless and flabby in comparison.
As for the sausage, Sharon lives in southwestern Virginia, where the wonderful whole-hog sausage made by Gunnoe’s, a family-owned operation since the 1940s, is easy to come by. On the pork-challenged Upper East Side of Manhattan, I feel fortunate to nab a roll of Jimmy Dean. (Naturally, this has started me thinking about branching out. Mexican chorizo, rich with chiles, or Italian sausage would be interesting jumping-off points.)
Okay, the cheese. It took a little doing to get more information on this surprisingly fraught ingredient out of Sharon. “You won’t want to write about it,” she said, and laughed. Turns out the secret to the molten sauce that swathes her muffins is Kraft Old English sharp cheddar cheese spread. “It’s a product!” she said. “It comes in a jar. It’s sold next to the boxed macaroni and cheese. You’re not going to want to use it.”
Well, there are products and then there are products, and in checking out the ingredients of the pasteurized spread online, I think you could do much worse. There’s no nasty high-fructose corn syrup or other added sugars, and apocarotenal, source of the characteristic Creamsicle hue, is a carotenoid (a fat-soluble pigment that has antioxidant properties) found in spinach and citrus fruits. What’s not to love? I also realized Old English was probably what my grandmother used in her stuffed celery, and thought I may as well pick up an extra jar, for the pantry.
No such luck. I’ve never found the dratted stuff at my local supermarkets, and so have been forced to make do with real cheese, grated on the little teardrop-shaped holes of a box grater. It works fine, although it doesn’t impart the unctuous texture of the original. (Note to self: Order some Old English online before making next batch.)
No matter what, though, the ensembles are simple and quick to prepare, and sit quietly in the freezer until you need them—in addition to turning a salad into a meal, they’re delicious with eggs at breakfast or soup at lunchtime. I suppose my favorite thing about them, however, is that because they’re rich and substantial, one is enough to satisfy—a happy reminder that indulgence and greed are not the same thing.
English Muffins With Cheesy Sausage Crumbles
1 pound bulk mild sausage such as Jimmy Dean, thawed if frozen
½ stick unsalted butter
About 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, finely grated, plus more for baking, OR two 5-ounce jars Old English sharp cheddar cheese spread
Cayenne pepper, to taste
5 English muffins (preferably Bay’s), split in half
1. Put the sausage in a large skillet and cook, breaking it into crumbles with a wooden spoon, over medium heat until just cooked through and brown in a few places. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels and let drain, resisting the urge to eat those gorgeous brown crunchy bits.
2. Drain the drippings from the skillet. Over medium heat, melt the butter in the pan, scraping up any brown residue with the wooden spoon. Return the sausage to the pan and add the cheese. Stir all together until the cheese is melted and coats the sausage. Even though the cheese will separate and look unappealing (thus the beauty of the pasteurized cheese spread), don’t worry about it.
3. Put the English muffin halves on a baking sheet and divide the sausage mixture among them. Cover with a layer of waxed paper and freeze until hard, then transfer to freezer bags and return to the freezer.
4. When ready to eat, place however many muffin halves you need on a baking sheet. Scatter with more grated cheese if you’re feeling reckless, then bake in a preheated 350º oven until hot and cheese is bubbling, a good 15 minutes or so.