Pasta with Sausage and Fennel


I’ve never been a huge fennel fan, and for just that reason, I planted two fennel plants in my garden. I figured that if I could harvest it personally, I could figure out how to showcase its unique flavor.

Ideally, if one loves the anise/licorice flavor, fennel is eaten raw, shaved in a salad, for example. But I thought that gently sautéed and caramelized in olive oil, with pasta and sausage, would still highlight this unique plant properly.

Harvesting the fennel is just a matter of pulling it out of the ground. I read that the fennel bulb should be the size of a tennis ball.

The recipe is not mine – I found it on, and adapted it slightly.

Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel

1 fennel bulb, about 7 ounces, plus some fronds
12 ounces orecchiette
Olive oil
16 ounces sweet Italian sausage
Freshly ground black pepper
White wine
Freshly grated Parmesan

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside, along with 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until lightly browned and cooked just through.

Remove the sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Add the fennel slices and saute them in the remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel softens, about 5 minutes.

Continue to cook, adding a little wine as necessary to prevent the fennel from sticking to the skillet. You might have to do this a few times. The resulting fennel should be soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes more.

Add the cooked pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet, along with the sausage. Stir well and let cook, until the liquid has reduced to a creamy sauce, about 4 minutes.

Add Parmesan and season again if necessary.

Also sprinkle some of the fronds over the pasta.

The fennel still reminded me of Pernod, which I dislike, but it was better slightly caramelized and cooked in the wine.

The Parmesan wasn’t in the original recipe, but I felt like it needed cheese.

Heavy cream would also be a fabulous addition!

55 thoughts on “Pasta with Sausage and Fennel

  1. This is a great recipe, Mimi. I love fennel and eat it all the time – raw in salads or cooked – but I know its strong flavour is pretty much a love or hate thing. I love that you grew it in your garden to see if you liked it more – well done you! And I’d want to add the Parmesan too :)

      • Send it to me! No, I think it’s quite brave of you to grow something to test it … at least you know now that you really don’t much like them in any form. Have you tried braising it with lots of other Med-style veg to soften the flavour or would that just spoil the other vegetables for you? Lx

  2. This is such a classic combination, Mimi! I love it, and I hope it opened up your relationship with fennel. Another great recipe for fennel (which even fennel haters loved) is Ottolenghi’s chicken with clementines and arak. It’s phenomenal!

    • ‘Cocoa & Lavender’- that recipe by Ottolenghi sounds very interesting- I’ll have to check it out!

  3. How wonderful to be able to stroll out into one’s garden and pick up fennel to be used that same day? Lucky you! I think you used it pretty well in this recipe.

  4. I think fennel – like dark chocolate – is an acquired taste that comes with age :-D . I used to despise fennel, but about 6 years ago tried it very thinly sliced and caramelised, and I loved it, even though I hate anise and licorice.

  5. Oh well done on growing it. I wanted to grow some but all companion guides say to plant it on its own with a lot of spacing. So that was out. Lovely recipe and I would add parmesan also!

  6. I make a pasta very similar to this with rapini (another veggie that takes some palate re-education for some folks). Like your fennel, a little heat makes a lot of difference. GREG

    • I am not sure I’ve ever had rapini. I’ve certainly never seen it at my local grocery store, but I’m always worried they won’t have cilantro! I have to be happy with what does show up!

  7. I’m visiting a friend tomorrow who has a big family garden full of vegetables, among which is also fennel, I can take some and prepare this dish, thanks for the recipe :)

  8. I LOVE fennel so this is a definite must try for me!! I usually eat it raw or toss it in a salad but so delicious oven roasted when paired with potatoes! Can’t wait to try this dish, it looks and sounds amazing Mimi😊

    • Oh interesting. Well I’ve got one more fennel plant out there, but I think I’ll make this pasta again, which is odd for me to do but everyone really loved it!

  9. This recipe looks delicious- I often slice the fennel thinly with a mandoline slicer to get the flavor but not to be too overwhelmed by it!

  10. I love this Mimi! It’s great that you grew it yourself. Like you I’m not a big fan of anise flavours, the smell of Pernod makes me gag! I have grown to like fennel in small amounts though. I like a mild hit of it with Italian sausages and recently had it in an apple slaw which was great. I must try braising it next.

  11. Sounds absolutely delicious! We love fennel – either shaved thinly for salad or sauteed in dishes like this, though my favorite is in a vegetable soup with onion, garlic, red & orange peppers and canellini beans. Mmm!

  12. LOVE fennel! And this is such a classic recipe, and perfectly done. Try fennel sometime in a gratin. Or soup!

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