Thursday, April 22, 2010

Triple Fennel Sausage Pasta

I love lemony pastas. Something about the bright zing of lemon just perks up a dish of pasta, much like the slight tartness of tomato does. My go-to pasta before discovering this one was an even simpler combo from Nigella Lawson—just barely toasted garlic, steamed asparagus, a handful of chopped parsley, a couple of cups of cooked orzo, and olive oil and lemon juice over all. This recipe by Jamie Oliver is somewhat similar, only swapping the asparagus for spicy sausage, which is sort of like switching from coffee to crack cocaine. Oliver recommends getting the best quality sausages you can find, which for me means the housemade spicy Italian sausage from Bi-Rite.

I bumped up the fennel from the original recipe by adding a fennel bulb to the base and then sprinkling on some fennel pollen at the end, making this a triple fennel pasta. The only other contribution I have to Mr. Oliver's fine recipe is the following tip: breaking up the sausage in the pan with two wooden spatulas works about 10x faster than using the back of a wooden spoon as he suggests. Just sort of use them like extensions of your hands and smash and tear the meat apart with the front edges, not the flats, of the spatulas.

Lastly, I use a splash of vermouth in place of the glass of white wine, not because I'm not a wino, but because I prefer reds. Vermouth keeps forever, so you can always have it on hand without worrying about finishing the bottle. The other option would be to pour the remainder of any opened white wine into an ice cube tray and save it for future cooking projects.

Triple Fennel Sausage Pasta (adapted from Jamie Oliver)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 tablespoon fennel pollen
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper (or to taste)
Olive oil
3-4 best quality spicy Italian sausage
1 tablespoon dried oregano
About a shotglass of vermouth
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb of good quality fusilli
Handful of parmesan cheese, freshly grated (plus more for serving)
Handful of parsley, stemmed and roughly chopped
A small knob of butter (optional)

1. Smash up the fennel seeds and chile flakes in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and set aside.

2. Put a large pot of water on to boil and add a few generous pinches of salt. Then, heat a splash of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan (I use my wok). It should be large enough to hold all of the pasta later, which likely means it's the biggest pan you own.

3. Add the fennel to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then start squeezing the sausages out of their skins into the pan. Use the double spatula trick described above to break the meat up. Wait for the meat to take on some color (a few minutes), then smash it up even further. You want the sausage to cook up into little, crispy, flavor-packed bits that will sneak into the spirals of the fusilli. Add the fennel seeds and chiles and cook over medium heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the meat is caramelized.

4. While you're waiting for the meat to get nice and crispy, check to see if your water is boiling. Once it is, add your pasta and cook according to package instructions (likely 8-10 minutes).

5. Stir in the oregano, then pour in the vermouth (or a glass of dry white wine). Allow the alcohol to cook off for a few minutes, then turn heat to low while you wait for your pasta to finish cooking. Once pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, reserving a bit of the cooking water. Add the cooked pasta to your pan of sausage. Then add parmesan, parsley, fennel pollen, lemon zest and juice, and a bit of butter, along with a few spoons of the pasta cooking water. Mix well, making sure you get all the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan.


  1. That's a lovely bowl of pasta. I love the lemony atste to it. This would make a great lunch for me.

  2. I have some lamb sausage that I need to use up and it'd be perfect in this!

  3. That looks soooooooo good! I need to eat more lemon-y pasta!

  4. @ Crepes of Wrath - Lamb would be a really interesting twist. I'm sure the lemon and fennel would go equally great with lamb.

  5. Looks lovely. Whenever I use sausage meat in a recipe I take pleasure in squeezing it out of the casing with my left hand into the front 2 fingers and thumb of my right hand in a downwards constant stream, grinding it with my fingers so it all crumbles into the pan. Well, it breaks up into sticky little chunks, anyway. Or both hands. Just get stuck in. :-) I like your writing, btw, nice friendly style. You should send this into a magazine.


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