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Balsamic-Braised Sausages with Grapes and Watercress

Be sure to use fresh sausages, rather than smoked ones, for this recipe. Browning them first 
in a broiler highlights their meaty flavor, and the slow cooker transforms them, making them meltingly tender. The fresh, robust flavors of the salad–tart-sweet grapes and peppery watercress–are the perfect counterpoint to the braised sausages. Large, dark purple grapes, which should be quartered rather than halved, are also lovely in this salad.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. fresh sweet or hot Italian pork sausages
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, cored and finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock
  • 3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups seedless red or green grapes, halved
  • 1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed

For the shallot vinaigrette:

  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Preheat a broiler. Arrange the sausages on a rack set on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil, turning as needed, until golden brown all over, 8 to 9 minutes total. Transfer the sausages to a plate.

In a slow cooker, stir together the shallot, fennel, celery, garlic, salt and several grinds of pepper. Top with the broiled sausages and add the stock, balsamic vinegar and white wine. Cover and cook for 2 1/2 hours on high or 5 1/2 hours on low according to the manufacturer’s instructions, turning the sausages over halfway through if possible. The sausages should be tender and cooked through.

To make the vinaigrette, in a bowl, combine the grapes and watercress. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, shallot, red wine vinegar, salt and a few grinds of pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified; you will need about 1/3 cup for this recipe; reserve the rest for another use. Drizzle the grapes and watercress with enough of the vinaigrette to coat lightly and toss to coat evenly.

Divide the sausages among warm individual plates, spoon some of the braising liquid around the sausages, and top with the grapes and watercress. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma The New Slow Cooker, by Brigit Binns (Weldon Owen, 2010).