Thursday, December 23, 2010


In Dublin, where I come from, one of the traditional local dishes is a sausage, bacon and potato stew called Coddle. It consists of sausages, bacon (or ham), potatoes and onions, all boiled together in water. It's dishes like this that helped to prevent Dublin from becoming the internationally-renowned city of gastronomy that it isn't. It should come as no surprise that few Dubliners younger than fifty have ever eaten Coddle. I myself have only eaten it twice, very much in a spirit of research & development, and both times it was only because I cooked it myself; the first time to see what it tasted like, and the second time to check that it really was as disgusting as I remembered. It was.

Fortunately, for those that like one-pot meals and the taste of sausage, there is at least one great traditional sausage casserole out there: Spetsofai. I know it sounds like a special forces unit from a former Warsaw Pact country, but it is in fact a Greek sausage casserole of great gutsiness and character. (There are of course more great sausage dishes out there - choucroute garnie comes to mind - but Spetsofai is the only one I've tasted.) My wonderful Greek mother-in-law cooks it, and being a Greek woman who lives round the corner from an excellent butcher (John Saunderson's), she likes to buy a couple of every kind of sausage the butcher has and chuck 'em all in there in the spirit of variety.

Spetsofai is real rustic Greek food, and there is no one way to do it. I've seen a bunch of recipes on the internet but none of them looked as tasty as my mother-in-law's version. Spetsofai should be considered as a method, not as something written in stone (unlike, say, saltimbocca alla Romana, the recipe for which was actually agreed upon by a panel of Italian chefs in 1962). Here is Katy's recipe as I got it from her.

"I am crap at quantities, but will tell you what I got today: 2 Cumberland sausages, 3 pork and leek, 3 venison, 2 tomato something, 5 pork, and 6 chipolatas as an afterthought. Also, 3 green and 1 yellow pepper, and I had 1 1/2 at home.

Made my tomato sauce. Used 1 onion, not too big, bunch of spring onions, sauted them in butter, put in 1 tin chopped tomatoes, squeezed in some tomato puree, red wine, salt, pepper, sugar, oregano again and again, then decided to put in another tin of chopped tomatoes, more wine, more everything, then saw there was still some parsley and a few leaves of basil, (OK not in mint condition) on the window sill, so in they went, also put in ends of peppers which were sticking out (because they fry better if they are flat). Then fried peppers, then fried cut up sausages. Put everything in big enough pot (earthenware) in a moderate oven, and that was cooked for (I think) an hour. Until you arrived in any case."

So there you go. Here's the method in short:

1. Make your favourite rich tomato sauce, as if for pasta. Add lots of oregano, otherwise it's lacking in Greekness.
2. Fry 4-5 roughly chopped bell peppers and add them to the sauce.
3. Take more sausages than you think you want, cut them all in half, brown them well in olive oil and add them to the sauce. Note that my mother-in-law here used 15 regular sausages and 6 chipolatas in a dish meant for four adults and one small child (!). Granted that she likes to have leftovers: abundance is the key, here. Sausages are not very expensive, let's face it.
4. Bake it in the oven for an hour, preferably in an earthenware dish. Do it with the lid off. The top should be a bit scorched, and the sauce should be really thick.
5. Serve with whatever kind of carb you fancy - pasta, rice, some small roasted new potatoes are all good.

Eat this with sausage-loving friends. The overall impression should be of more sausages than anyone could really want to eat. But between you, you will eat them. A simple Greek salad of chopped tomato, cucumber and red onion is all you need on the side, and plenty of red wine.

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