Italian sausage, as it’s referred to in the United States, is most often a pork sausage that is made with fennel or anise. It’s the usual type of sausage that you’ll find in most pasta sauces, as a pizza topping, etc. But what, exactly, is sweet Italian sausage? Sweet Italian sausage, also known as mild Italian sausage, is simply the less spicy version of the two. “Sweet” and “mild” are used interchangeably, and what’s known as hot Italian sausage contains a dash or two of hot red peppers flakes that gives it some punch. Italian sausage almost always comes in links, and you can buy it at the grocery store or from the butcher by the pound. The verdict? In any recipe you can safely substitute “sweet” sausage for “mild” sausage, and vice-versa, without concern.
Italian sausage packs a ton of flavor, and can be seasoned with fresh or dry herbs. It’s a great addition to soups, stews, and if you remove it from the casing, you can crumble it and use it similarly to ground beef. Worried about how the sausage gets made? If you’re really looking to use the best quality ingredients, try making your own sweet and/or hot Italian sausage by chatting with your local butcher for tips and starting off with fresh ground pork as your base. You can add in any number of seasonings, and stay traditional with fennel and anise, or step outside the box and add in cayenne, paprika, red wine, whatever strikes your fancy.
But despite our love for Italian sausage, there’s no doubt about it that the name is a bit misleading. There’s no “Italian sausage” on the menu in Italy; it’s simply sausage, and in our lexicon we’ve labeled the familiar fennel seed-flavored sausage Italian sausage even though there’s nothing particularly Italian about it. But if you see Italian sausage on the menu, don’t hesitate to order it—it will most likely be a flavor-packed and delicious pick that you won’t want to miss out on. Check out our recipes featuring Italian sausage (using both the sweet and hot varieties) and get started on the road to Italian sausage greatness asap.
Quick Italian Sausage Bolognese
The Italian sausage in this recipe makes for a much more flavorful and rich Bolognese sauce. Try it with your favorite shape of pasta and you can add more hot red pepper flakes to add a kick. Get our Quick Italian Sausage Bolognese recipe.
Italian Sausage and Sauteed Onion Jalapeno Poppers
If you love jalapeno poppers, this rendition will really blow your mind with the addition of Italian sausage and some sautéed onion. The sweet sausage is a great juxtaposition to the fiery jalapenos. Get our Italian Sausage and Sauteeed Onion Jalapeno Poppers recipe.
Orrechiete with Sausage, and Broccoli Rabe
The sweet Italian sausage in this recipe is a great counter to the spicy and sometimes bitter broccoli rabe. Garlic, red chile flakes, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and fresh bread crumbs make for a dinner-party-worthy dish that you can assemble in minutes. Get our Orrechiete with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe recipe.
Grilled Italian Sausage with Sweet and Sour Peppers and Onions
A good grilled Italian sausage just begs to be paired with peppers and onions. In this recipe, the onions and peppers are seasoned with apple cider vinegar, sugar, and black pepper to add a sweet and sour note that takes the sausage to the next level. Get our Grilled Italian Sausage with Sweet and Sour Peppers and Onions recipe.
Sausage, Pumpkin, and Arborio Soup
This rich winter soup can be made ahead (if you don’t add in theArborio rice until the last minute) and is a great pick for a weeknight meal when you’re trying to make dinner in a hurry. Tuscan kale, fresh sage, and garlic boost the flavors of the Italian sweet sausage. Get the recipe here.
Italian Sausage and Kale Gratin
A simple gratin made with mild Italian sausage, sautéed with white wine and mixed with goat cheese, Parmigiana-Reggiano, fresh herbs, and some leafy kale is hands down the best way to eat your vegetables. Get the recipe here.
Homemade Italian Sausage-Goat Cheese Lasagna Rolls
When you’re too tired to spend the entire afternoon making lasagna from scratch, these sausage-goat cheese lasagna rolls are just the answer. Each roll is like a miniature, personalized lasagna slice, with spicy Italian sausage, Romano cheese, tomatoes, garlic, mozzarella, etc. Get the recipe here.