One of the things that takes some getting use to about living in the country is the concept that “I’m just gonna run out and grab this thing I need” is insanely impractical. We’re a good 40 minutes to the closest supermarket, and while we have a small mom and pop grocery store about 10 minutes away, it certainly isn’t open all the time and has a very small selection.

Because of this, I’ve gotten really good at making substitutions. It’s not ever ideal, but it does the job and saves us the gas money (and time) of a trip “into the city”.

My newest substitution achievement is turning pork breakfast sausage into pork Italian sausage.

pork sausage

For some reason, our CSA keeps us in near-constant supply of delicious, flavorful, local pork breakfast sausage. Our freezer is stocked. So when I went digging in our deep freeze the other day for some Italian sausage, and all I was met with was pounds and pounds of breakfast sausage, I knew it was time for some substitution magic.

In an ideal world, we’d use the highest quality Italian sausage from the most incredible little Italian shop you could find. But this isn’t ideal. This is the country, where we do insane things like chase off coyotes and turn breakfast sausage into Italian sausage.

italian sausage

Because breakfast sausage is loaded with all kind of its own flavorings (most of which we don’t want in the final product) it takes some herb and spice subterfuge to cover those up and bring out that nice, spicy, fennel-y Italian sausage flavor. So open up your spice drawer kids, we’ve got some work to do.

breakfast sausage spices

The mixture is easy, in a bowl, combine:

  • 1 pound breakfast sausage
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (this is absolutely imperative, fennel seeds are what *make* Italian sausage)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (more if you like it hot)

Use your hands and get it really well-mixed and get all the spices distributed. Go on, get dirty. Once all the spices are mixed it, it’s ready to be used just like you would a store-bought pound of Italian sausage. I used mine in a tomato sauce over fresh pasta. Yum!


What’s your favorite kitchen substitution?

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  1. I don’t think I’ll ever buy bulk Italian sausage again. I needed this in a pinch because I bought regular bulk sausage and needed Italian to use in a Zappa Tuscana soup. It was amazing!!

  2. Oh my, did you ever just describe my life in the country! NE Montana is remote enough and then I live out of the nearest small town, half the time I can’t find what I need anyway. It’s funny to see you absolutely describe how it is. I wouldn’t trade it though, no way! The only thing I don’t have is Fennel Seed and I just knew it was going to be the absolute! Dang it..figure out something else from the pantry and deep freezer for now.
    Thank you for the smile!

  3. Thank you! This recipe worked out very well and saved me a trip to the grocery store. It was delicious in my tortellini soup .

  4. I tried this because we have two tiny stores in our town and neither of them had italian I was making goulash I tried this substitute…IT WAS WONDERFUL!! Thank you so much for this “recipe”.. I’m saving it in my cookbook. Tastes just as good at half the price!! I added just a pinch of sugar since thats the way my family is used to goulash. could not tell the difference in yours and my usual recipe.

  5. Not to be negative in any way, but it seems more like a “how to make italian sausage” rather than substituting, lol, and your average plain ground pork might be a better base since as you say, breakfast sausage can have some additional spices you may not want. And I’d think ground pork might be easier to source than even sausage plus in your situation I think you’d have some way to even grind up plain pork if all you had was say pork loin ;?)

    1. Hiya Russ! Grinding your own meat and making your own sausage is great—but that’s not what this post is intended for. This is for folks trying to make do with what they have. Whether that’s someone with a freezer full of breakfast sausage when they need Italian sausage or someone who grabbed the wrong type of sausage at the grocery store and can’t (or won’t) make another trip. This isn’t for the ideal sausage situation, it’s for a make-the-best-of-it sausage situation. For folks who are in a pinch, this recipe is here to help! =)

  6. I accidentally bought pork sausage instead of Italian. I used this recipe and it’s excellent. The fennel seeds and peppercorns we’re easily handled by my coffee/spice grinder.

  7. I tried it to convert some regular cooked crumbled sausage to an Italian flavored sausage, and it worked just fine! I’ll definitely be using this recipe again.

  8. Ok thank you for this post – helped so much when my grocery store only had ground breakfast sausage and I was making a homemade bolognese sauce for lasagna!!! Turned out absolutely delicious and what an easy fix!!