Monday, January 28, 2008

Fennel, Fennel, Where is my Fennel?

I love fennel. It's hard for me to say that. If you knew me, you wouldn't think that is the case, but it is so true. I am in complete wonder of fennel and of fennel fronds. How great is it that we can actually eat a vegetable with fronds? I know I'm bordering on the silly, but fennel really makes me think of Dr. Seuss. I think he would had a grand time creating a story around fennel fronds - I digress.

I remember the first time that I ate fennel. I didn't even know it was in the dish. About 12 years ago, I was traveling on business and I ordered room service. I was trying to avoid the typical hotel burger and went out on a limb and ordered fish. I remember biting into crunchy fennel, thinking to myself, "what is this"? It almost tasted like licorice, but not so much. (I hate licorice, so it is so oddly interesting that I truly enjoy fennel!) The crunch was very pleasing. I could have eaten an entire bowl of the fennel. It certainly made the hotel fish edible.

The mere fact that I love fennel does not help me prepare it in new and interesting ways. I am always in search of new recipes and ideas. So, a few months ago I was watching the Food Network and became mesmerized watching Rachel Ray prepare this dish. Not to diss Rachel, but I typically don't make many of her recipes. I'm more about leisure culinary experiences. But this recipe was different, it spoke to me. I promptly tried it, and have made it a least 3 times over. I have to say, it's a perfect way to eat fennel. It's basically a pasta, fennel, Italian sausage dish that is delish!! I made it again this past weekend, which is why I must share it with you. Try this when you can, you won't be disappointed. Embrace the fennel side of you!

Fennel Sausage Pasta
I adapted this from a Rachel Ray recipe. I add more cubanelle peppers and more onions than is called for. I don't skimp on the San Marzano tomatoes. They are expensive, but worth it. I like this hearty and thick. The combination of flavors is a winner!

1 pound rotini or ziti pasta (hollow fat spaghetti)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage (I've found it in links and have taken it out of the casing to brown it)
4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed, quartered and core cut away, very thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, very thinly sliced
2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and very thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine or stock (wine is better)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano (Italian imported) tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup basil, 20 leaves, shredded or torn

Crusty bread, for mopping

Place a large pot of water on to boil for pasta. Salt water and add pasta and cook to al dente.
While water comes to boil and pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Add sausage to the skillet and break up the sausage into small bits. Brown sausage all over then transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Return pan to heat and add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, the garlic, fennel, onions and peppers. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Cook, turning frequently, 7 to 8 minutes until tender but do not allow the fennel and onions to brown – reduce heat a bit if they begin to. Add the wine or stock next and reduce 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and the sausage. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until pasta is done.

Drain the pasta very well and add to the sauce. Sprinkle the pasta with 1/2 cup cheese, a couple of handfuls, then toss pasta with thick sauce to combine. Transfer pasta to a large shallow platter and cover with the pasta with basil leaves. Serve with extra cheese and pass crusty bread at the table to mop up the plates.

What to drink: Well, I simply drink the white wine that I used in the recipe. This past weekend I had a 2005 Salvestrin Sauvingnon Blanc. It was perfect in the pasta and perfect in my glass (even if it didn't remain in my glass for long).

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!!

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