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 Epicurious.com, and adapted it slightly.
Orecchiette with Sweet Italian Sausage and Fennel
1 fennel bulb, about 7 ounces, plus some fronds
12 ounces orecchiette
16 ounces sweet Italian sausage
Freshly ground black pepper
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!