Want to know a secret? When I planned to make this dish there was a small part of me that imagined this might end up in the trash, uneaten. Earlier in the week when I visited the farmers market the fennel bulbs looked so crisp and fresh that I couldn’t resist picking up two bulbs. A vegetable that I didn’t grow to love until I learned to roast it a few years ago, two bulbs was a bit optimistic for one week of cooking when my fennel repertoire is still limited at best. But you can never go wrong roasting it and I ate it raw in salads on our recent trip to France. I brought home the two bulbs inspired for a fennel-filled week.
For breakfast and lunch I had toast or sandwiches using my favorite seeded sourdough baguette with fennel, poppy and sesame seeds. I baked these Cheddar and Fennel Seed crackers and I was so happy with them that each time I passed by the kitchen counter I walked away with one in my mouth. But there was still the question of what I would do with the fennel bulbs save for roasting them.
Then I was inspired to pair the fennel with the sweet chicken sausage I also purchased earlier in the week. With fennel seed in the sausages I wondered if the fresh fennel would be a good pairing…or if it would be too much of a good thing. In my experience though, the licorice flavor of fennel mellows during cooking so I pushed on even with mild reservations about not only my husband rejecting dinner but me, too.
I prepared pasta, a safe choice for us, in the way I normally cook it with sausage but in addition to tomatoes and fresh basil, I added sautéed sliced fennel and a few splashes of rosé wine in an effort to elevate its appeal as much as I could. The dish came together in minutes and wouldn’t you know it…
…we LOVED this dish! See how colorful it is in the bowl? Imagine an equivalent amount of flavor but don’t think you’re eating a bowl of licorice. The sautéed fennel mellowed out as I’d hoped so it enhanced rather than overpowered the tomatoes and basil. If you’re not a big fan of fennel please don’t be afraid of this dish; remember, I wasn’t always one myself. This jumped to the “favorites” category after the first taste and it was just as good, if not better, the next day. Can you tell I’m enthusiastic about this dish? Chalk it up to my surprise that it didn’t end up rejected. I’m glad I went with inspiration and now I have a new pasta dish to add to my weeknight rotation.
- ⅔ - ¾ lb tube pasta
- 1 lb sweet chicken sausage, removed from casing
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced thinly
- ¼ - ⅓ cup rosé wine
- 1½ - 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (most flavorful when in-season)
- 12-14 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
- ¼ - ½ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon chili sauce (or few pinches chili flakes)
- Parmigiano Reggiano for serving
- Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta over medium to medium-high heat. Add the small pieces of sausage and cook for 5-6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl including any browned bits in the pan and set aside. You can drain some of the rendered fat from the sausage but I didn't do that. Reduce the heat in the pan to medium and add the sliced fennel and chili sauce (or chili flakes). Cook for 3-4 minutes until they're crisp-tender and their flavor has mellowed (season to taste). You can add more of the olive oil if you like. Pour in the rosé, turn up the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes then add back the cooked sausage, including all the brown bits. If the mixture looks dry--remember you'll also be adding the pasta--add the rest of the olive oil. Throw in the cooked pasta (I ended up using a little over ⅔ lb) and basil chiffonade and stir everything together. Season again with salt and pepper if you like. You can add more olive oil and/or some of the pasta water (a tablespoon or two at a time) for more moisture.
- Plate and generously sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.