Best dishes often thrown together


WHEN I COOK, I often throw things together, literally. One night, for instance, while a homemade pizza was baking in the oven, I found some Italian parsley in the bottom of the fridge and hurriedly sprinkled it atop the bubbling pizza. The late addition added a pleasing note.

Often, while cooking hamburgers, I flip an onion onto the barbecue grill, using a nice soft, underhand motion like a second baseman tossing a baseball to the shortstop.

Sometimes, my throws are errant. Tossing dill on a pizza, for instance, turned out to be a flavor mistake, even though it looked picturesque.

The other night, I undertook a new challenge, throwing seedless grapes into a hot skillet. The results were mixed. Most of the grapes bounced out of the skillet, so I had to adjust my grape-tossing technique. But when the grapes stayed in the skillet, they ended up tasting terrific.

I got this idea from another guy who likes to throw things around in the kitchen, Mark Bittman. Near the back of his new cookbook, "The Minimalist Cooks at Home," Bittman described a sausage and grape dish, which he said hailed from the Umbria region of Italy.

The dish was so simple - cook the sausages in a skillet, then cook the grapes in the sausage juice - that I was compelled to give it a try.

Moreover, it called for one of my favorite airborne ingredients, seedless grapes. Like a lot of guys, I have spent a lot of time sitting around the kitchen table with other fellows, seeing who could toss the most grapes into his mouth. It is a guy-grape thing.

So while I recommend this recipe, I feel compelled to offer a few tips to ensure its successful execution.

First, even though it looks like a lot of fun, don't try standing at the kitchen sink and throwing grapes into the skillet. Instead, stand over the skillet and drop them in.

Secondly, buy more grapes than you will need, because for every grape you drop in the skillet, you will want to toss another one in your mouth.

Sausages With Grapes

Serves 4

1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh Italian sausage

4 cups seedless grapes

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice to taste

Place the sausages in a 12-inch skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook the sausages, turning from side to side, until they are nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Do not prick them until they are brown all over. After pricking them, cook for 5 minutes more.

Remove the sausages to a warm platter. If more than a tablespoon or two of sausage fat remains in the pan, remove the excess. Add the grapes (dropping them into pan) and turn the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring occasionally, until some of the grapes collapse. Add the vinegar or lemon juice and stir, then turn off heat.

Serve the sausages nestled in grapes and swimming in grape juices.

- From "The Minimalist Cooks at Home" (Broadway Books, 1999) by Mark Bittman

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