I have to admit that until about a year and a half ago, I was an Italian Sausage "Virgin". I'd never had the stuff. I always thought when a recipe called for sausage, it meant that smoked stuff that's in a "U" shape by the hot dogs (excuse my while I vomit)...I didn't realize that sausage actually came in a fresh variety in the meat case!!! I remeber the first time I made a recipe with "sausage" in it (you know, the U-shaped stuff) and was so proud to serve it to the CFO. He was a gentleman and said it was great...but when I asked if it was like his mom used to make, he politely informed me of the other, Italian variety.
I must say that now that I've had the opportunity to cook with REAL Italian sausage, I'm a fan...LOVE it!!! Soooooo tasty. Anyway, once I started on my diet, I decided to try Turkey Italian Sausage...still VERY good and a lot less fat! Depending on the recipe, sometimes you can't tell the difference! I've been cooking Italian sausage links in the skillet and then pouring jarred spaghetti sauce over it for spaghetti. Pretty good (especially if you use Rao's Homemade Sauce....TO DIE FOR!!!)... But then I saw this recipe here and decided to try it. It was REALLY good, though I do have one complaint. It says to put the sausage links in water and simmer for 10 minutes before putting in the Crock Pot. Ummmm, I can't really describe exactly what happened, but when I checked on them mid-way through the simmering, there was this "foam" junk on top of the water. GROSS!!! The only comfort I had by seeing that nasty stuff floating in the pan was that at least I knew I wouldn't be ingesting it now that it had "boiled off" of the sausage. Maybe it was because I used turkey sausage instead of pork...I don't know. Anyway, I will say that I do prefer the flavor and texture of sausage cooked in the skillet. Next time I make this I will cook the sausage like I normally do, then transfer the crock pot. No more effort or time involved, but a much better flavor in my opinion.
Anyway, try this recipe for an easy weeknight dinner (and by the way, I halved the amount of ingredients because, if you're like me, you're not feeding an entire army, and the halved amount makes a good family-size amount of food):
Slow Cooker Italian Sausage Spaghetti
1 lb Italian sausage--sweet, hot, or mild (I used turkey)
24 oz spaghetti sauce (can't beat Rao's!!!)
3 oz. tomato paste
1/2 green pepper sliced thin
1/2 lrg onion sliced thin
1/2 T Parmesan cheese (I used reduced fat...can't tell the difference)
1/2 tsp. parsley flakes
1/2 C water
Place sausage in skillet and cover with water; simmer 10 minutes; drain. (Again, I prefer to cook it in the skillet...see below) Meanwhile, place remaining ingredients in slow cooker. Add (drained) sausage and cover; cook on Low for 4 hours. Increase to High and cook 1 more hour. Cut sausage into bite size pieces/slices and serve over hot spaghetti. Sprinkle with more Parmesan if desired.
Last note: When I cook Italian sausage in the skillet, this is how I do it: I take it out of the freezer, put on a plate and microwave for 30 seconds...just enough to be able to break them apart. Then I use a sharp knife and cut them into thin slices. I put a small amount of olive oil in a nonstick skillet and cook the slices until browned. They cook really fast this way and brown on all sides, giving it a really intense flavor! :)