Ready to bring Oktoberfest home? It is, after all, a fine way to get into the spirit of fall.
We start with that most ubiquitous of German sausages (at least in this country), the bratwurst. Here in the U.S., we tend to think of brats as a one-and-done sort of food. Which is to say, we don’t encounter a whole lot of variety in bratwursts. But in Germany, bratwursts can vary widely in flavour (peppery to mild), meats (pork, veal and beef are common), even size (foot-long, spiraled and squat are just the start).
In Germany, they generally are grilled. But here we like to braise them in beer, then slap them on a bun, maybe with some onions. That is pretty tasty, but I wanted to rethink this classic sandwich as a weeknight friendly dinner. It was easier — and more delicious — than I thought.
For ease and speed, I did the bratwursts on the grill. Of course, you could do them on a grill pan or in a skillet if you don’t feel like heading outside. While the brats cook, you caramelize a mess of onions, peppers and apples, creating a lightly sweet complement to the peppery sausages. After the mixture cooks down, I deglazed the pan with a bit of beer and stir in a smidge of hot mustard. All the classic flavours.
The sausages and the onion mixture then get tossed with pasta and piled into a baking dish. Some buttery breadcrumbs are scattered over the top, then you pop the whole thing under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp.
BRATWURST PASTA BAKE WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS, PEPPERS, AND APPLES
Start to finish: 1 hour
For the caramelized onions:
2 tablespoons butter
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, cored and thinly sliced
3 large apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon brown sugar
12 ounces German beer
1/4 cup spicy German mustard
For the sausages and pasta:
1 pound bratwursts
1 pound penne pasta
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Sour cream, to serve
In a large saucepan over medium-high, melt the butter. Add the onions, peppers, apples and cumin seeds, then cook, partially covered, for 15 minutes, or until the onions are lightly browned and very tender. Stir in the brown sugar, then cook for another 2 minutes. Add the beer and mustard, then stir to release any brown bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a grill to medium-high and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat the broiler. Lightly mist a 9-by-12-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Add the penne to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta cooks, grill the bratwursts, turning for even cooking, until they reach 165 F at the centre and are lightly charred outside, about 10 minutes. Let the sausages cool slightly, then cut into 1-inch chunks. Add the pasta and bratwursts to the pan of onions and toss well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish, spreading it evenly.
In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs and melted butter, then scatter evenly over the pasta. Broil on the oven’s middle shelf for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the pan as needed for even browning. Serve with sour cream.