Italian culinary wisdom says sausage and fennel are a match made in heaven. In fact, many Italian sausages are already stuffed with fennel seeds to give the ground pork meat an anise-based kick. This recipe intends to tip the flavor more towards the fragrant vegetable bulb rather than its equally delicious seeds or fronds while keeping the sausage as support. I’ve been experimenting with this combo for a while now and it keeps suggesting to me that I take the detailing even further.
Now I’ve fine-tuned the recipe in a way that Italian hot peppers, Pernod liqueur and a dose of saffron give it a sense of a land-locked bouillabaisse, having the tastes and smells of the Italian Mediterranean cross the border towards the southern French one. In any case, this is an easy, hearty dish that is even tastier the next day (or even two days later). Enjoy!
Sausage and Fennel Ragout
Heat 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy pot
Brown 5 lbs sweet Italian sausages, remove to a plate to drain and let cool, then cut into chunks
Trim off the stalks of 4 large or 8 small fennel bulbs, saving the fronds, then cut each bulb into 8 wedges and again each wedge in half, so they are about bite size; if you are using smaller wild fennel simply cut into bite-sized wedges. Note: depending on the size of the fennel, always buy more than you think you might need–use your judgement–as you want the fennel to shine; any extra can be used for a frittata the next day
Brown fennel pieces in sausage-infused oil, stirring regularly
Add a medium to large red onion, chopped, 5 garlic cloves, chopped, 1tsp fennel seeds, 3 pepperoncini (dried spicy chili peppers, flaked) and cook about 5 minutes, stirring.
Add a large can of best quality whole Italian tomatoes with the juice, 1 cup Pernod, 1 cup dry white wine, about 1 tsp saffron then salt to taste (keep in mind that the sausages once reintroduced will bring in some salt too)
Stir in the pieces of browned sausage so they are well mixed into the sauce
Cook until sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally to blend the flavors and break up the tomatoes, about an hour. Check seasonings then serve over farro cooked with the fennel fronds; warm polenta made with butter and grated parmesan cheese; or, pureed potatoes with butter and lots of ground pink or black peppercorns.
This is a crowd-pleasing dish that will win over even vegetarian-leaning friends and family. Viva la cucina italiana!