I’ll be the first to admit: this is not the most photogenic dish to ever appear on Culinspiration. But although it’s not much to look at, this sauce is so good it had me pestering my friends Rachel and Julius for the recipe for weeks. Weeks! I couldn’t get the perfect melding of flavors out of my head: the caramelized shallot and fennel, the tender sausage, the kiss of tomato. I—who thought I didn’t like fennel!—was obsessed. And my pleading, borderline harassing e-mails requesting the recipe weren’t getting much response. Sheesh…you’d think they have a life or something.
Frankly, I was getting a little desperate. For pasta sauce.
Finally, I invited myself over we all sat down for dinner again, and I grilled my friends. Triumph! I got the recipe and am happy to share it with you. This is a brilliant dish to serve company— just a few ingredients, minimally prepped, which can simmer away while you uncork a bottle of wine. Just be prepared for the plaintive recipe requests from admirers later.
-fennel bulb, coarsely chopped
-2 lg. shallots, diced
-1 blanched, peeled, seeded, diced tomato (boil whole for 45 seconds, then plunge into ice water; the peel comes right off)
-a few sprigs fresh sage, contained in a tea ball or tossed loose into the pot
-1 package MILD italian sausage, removed from its casing and broken up
-1/2 tsp. dried basil
-salt, pepper, and hot pepper flake to taste
-1 1/2 c. dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
-Parmesan cheese, for serving
-1 lb. of your choice of pasta (linguine or papardelle from the refrigerator section is ideal)
1. In a covered Dutch oven, very slowly cook fennel and shallots in a little olive oil until they have softened and released their water. This will take about 25-35 min. Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium to begin browning the fennel and shallots. Avoid stirring too often—you want a nice golden-brown fond on the bottom of the pot (don’t let it burn).
2. Deglaze pan with 1 1/2 c. white wine, using a wooden spoon to stir the caramelized bits into the sauce. Add diced tomato and sage and continue simmering on low.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, cook Italian sausage on very low heat. When almost cooked through, turn off heat, and blot off grease.
4. If desired, remove sage from pot and blend a bit of the sauce with a stick blender. Leave the sauce somewhat chunky.
5. Stir in cooked sausage and dried basil. Taste for seasoning. Simmer sauce a few minutes more.
6. Boil pasta in salted water until al dente and drain.
7. In a bowl, toss pasta with 1/2 – 3/4 of the sauce. Divide among plates and top with another spoonful of sauce, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, and a few grinds of black pepper.
I’m told this tastes better the next day, but I was we were too impatient to find out.
(I texted Rachel tonight to thank her for the recipe. Her reply? “I am jealous you are eating it and I am not.” Word!)