One of my favorite pasta dishes is pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage, and while this dish falls just short of that one's magnificence (in my humble opinion), it comes in a pretty close second. When it came to everyone else around my table though, this was even more beloved than my fave because for the most part the broccoli rabe is a little too bitter for the kids. They much prefer the sweet, caramelized anise flavor of the fennel to the bitter, GREEN vibe of the rapini. Oh well, to each his own.
I do love how the fennel seed in the sausage reinforces the flavor of the fresh fennel bulb and how the fat from the pork teamed with the chicken stock makes for a luxurious sauce for the dish. Texturally this dish really has it all, meltingly tender onion, fennel with a bit of crunch left in it, and the fatty chew of sausage are enough to make even the most jaded palate sit up and take notice. The sage really makes a difference in this dish, so do try to find some fresh when you set out to make this one.
Cheers – Steve
- 4 tablespoons EVOO
- 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 pound dried penne rigate pasta
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 1/3 cups freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the EVOO in a heavy duty skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring to break-up into smaller pieces, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a paper-towel lined plate and pour off any fat remaining in the pan.
- Set the skillet back over medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO and the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the fennel, sage, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally until the fennel is softened and the onion is golden, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked sausage, red pepper flakes, and chicken broth and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 2 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the penne in the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, 10-11 minutes. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta in a colander. return the pasta to the pot over medium heat and stir in the sausage mixture until well combined. remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and enough reserved pasta water to moisten, if necessary. Distribute among six warmed bowls, and sprinkle with additional cheese.