This post is long over due. We fell in love with fennel over this past summer. We were at the farmer’s market and went to the booth of our favorite farmer. We always get peppers from him because he has the best variety, especially the shishito peppers. He talked us into getting a couple really large pieces of fennel. We didn’t know what to do with it but said “OK” and took some home with us. As luck would have it, later that weekend we saw an episode of Lidia’s Italy using fennel in a sauce with sausage and serving it with ziti pasta. It’s actually a pretty easy recipe so we tried it, and really liked it. It’s amazing how much the fennel changes when you saute it.
We’ve adjusted this recipe from Lidia’s, just because we can. You can find the original recipe on Lidia’s website. The original recipe calls for a pound of pasta but we find that 1/2 pound is plenty and allows the fennel and sausage to be the stars of the dish. Plus, it gives plenty of pasta for 2 grown men to have dinner and have some left overs for lunch on a later day. We also like using the sliced link sausage instead of ground sausage for the same reason. We usually get the best sausage we can get. This time we’re using Hot Chicken Italian Sausage. We served this with steamed summer squash with red pepper flakes.
- Salt for the pasta water
- 1/2 pound penne
- 1 pound hot Italian sausage, we use linked sausage
- 1 large fennel bulb
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions, cut into half-moon slices
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fennel fronds
- 1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or pecorino cheese
Heat a pot of water to a boil and add the sausage. Parboil the sausage for 5 minutes and then put it in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking it. It would be just as tasty grilling the sausage.
Save the water and use it for the pasta. Skim the water to remove the fat floating at the top and add some fresh water to get enough for your pasta. Heat the water back to a boil and then cook your penne following the directions on your package. Reserve 3 cups of the pasta water to add later for the sauce.
To prepare the fennel, trim the bulb and remove any tough outer parts. Reserve the fronds. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise, remove the core and then slice each half in 1/4 inch thick lengthwise slices. Separate the slivers of fennel if they are attached at the bottom and then cut the long slivers in half, so you have about 3 cups of 2 inch long slices of fennel.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes until they sizzle and wilt. Next, add the fennel and cook for another minute or two. Once the fennel has started to soften, add the garlic. Sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon if salt and the red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Now, push the onion & fennel to the side of the pan and add the tomato paste. Stir the tomato paste in the spot you added it to for a minute or two until it is sizzling, then stir it in with everything else.
By now your sausage should be finished cooking. Slice your sausage links into 1/4 inch slices and then add it to the mixture in your skillet.
Ladle in the reserved pasta water and stir well. Bring the liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let the mixture cook until the flavors meld and the sauce is thickened, about 6 minutes. Add more water if the sauce reduces too rapidly.
Add the cooked penne into the sauce and gently fold it into the sauce. Allow it to meld for few minutes. Now add the fennel fronds and mix it into the sauce.
Once it is ready, sprinkle on the cheese and allow it to melt. Then serve into warm pasta bowls.