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Orecchiette with Fennel, Sausage & Tomatoes

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Serves 4

  • To learn more, read:
    Inspired by Italy
  • by Tony Rosenfeld from Fine Cooking
    Issue 93

Make tonight’s dinner feel like a mini vacation to Italy with this quick pasta that pays homage to classic Italian flavors like sweet sausage, fennel, tomatoes, and fresh basil.

  • Kosher salt
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 large fennel bulb (about 1-1/4 lb.), quartered, cored, and finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fresh (or canned) seeded diced tomatoes, drained if using canned
  • 12 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 lb. dried orecchiette
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Heat 1-1/2 Tbs. of the oil in a 10-inch straight-sided saute pan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a metal spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a paper-towel-lined plate and pour off and discard any fat left in the pan.

Set the pan over medium heat and add the remaining 1-1/2 Tbs. oil, the fennel, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until the fennel softens and browns lightly, about 6 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the wine, and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits, until almost evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the sausage, tomatoes, half of the basil, the red pepper flakes, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, 6 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the orecchiette in the boiling water, stirring frequently until just tender, about 11 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain well. Return the pasta to the pot, add the sauce, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for 1 minute so the sauce and pasta meld. If the pasta seems dry, add enough cooking water to moisten it to your liking. Stir in half of the pecorino, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve sprinkled with the remaining pecorino and basil.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with a Classic Caesar Salad

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 680; Fat (g): 27; Fat Calories (kcal): 240; Saturated Fat (g): 8; Protein (g): 24; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 13; Carbohydrates (g): 75; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 3; Sodium (mg): 1430; Cholesterol (mg): 35; Fiber (g): 7;

Photo: Scott Phillips

5 star recipe rating from all the family. I did use 1 lb sausage and 3/4 lb pasta and used a medium size fennel and a small yellow onion, 1 cup wine and 1 can spicy red pepper diced tomatoes & 1 can diced tomatoes with fennel in it and used no red pepper flakes. Had so much flavor.I only used 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 pepper and the flavor was perfect.

One of our standby meals, which husband shorthands as "pasta hats".

Absolutely delicious! I couldn't find sweet Italian sausage so I bought mild Italian and added 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. I also didn't add any salt. The salt from the sausage and canned tomatoes was just enough. This is a going to be a regular on my dinner table!

My boyfriend loved this, I however thought it was a bit bland and too salty. I am willing to give it another try since he liked it so much but using a different sausage than I did the first time. I would definitely make the sauce in advance the next time and then reheat it, plus I had a hard time with the Orecchiette not being done even though I cooked it twice the time on the package, that is not FC's problem though.

Such an excellent recipe. It has become one of my staple pasta recipes. I agree that it's akin to going to a decent Italian restaurant. I often have a variety of European flavoured sausages in my freezer and have successfully substituted these for the sweet Italian ones when I wanted to make this but didn't have the correct sausage on hand. Although I prefer to use the correct sausage whenever possible. I would add that I have never found this recipe to be salty. I usually make the full recipe for two of us and freeze what is left for another evening. Four perfect servings from this recipe.

A keeper! Delicious and easy to prepare. The flavors meld beautifully. The flavor of the fennel was intriguingly subtle. It is a substantial dish. All we needed was a nice green salad to complement it. I agree with the reviewer who cautioned about the amount of salt. I held back and thought that it was almost too salty. Best to wait until the end before salting since there are several sources of salt here.

I actually hate fresh fennel normally, but for whatever reason was inspired to try this recipe. My wife and I both loved it--the fennel flavor blended in with the fennel seeds in the Italian sausage so that you couldn't really notice anything unusual. It was absolutely delicious and we've made it two or three times already. It tastes like something you'd get at a really nice Italian restaurant.

Very quick and tasty! I have made this many times. The flavor combinations are wonderful for such a simple dish. Good italian sausage is key. Another thing to note... the serving size listed here is a little on the generous side (3 oz pasta per serving). I consider this 6 servings and not 4.

I've been making this for a while now - it is a family favourite and there are always complaints because there are never enough leftovers. I don't drain the tomatoes so that adds the extra moisture and I don't have to save any pasta water. Love, love, love it!

I didn't have fennel on hand so I subbed an orange bell pepper. It was fairly fast and simple to prepare but I was surprised at how salty it was. I only added the 1 1/2 tsp that the recipe calls for (plus salting the pasta water) but it was almost too salty to eat. I did use canned diced tomatoes where as fresh may have needed the salt, but I was disappointed.

Outstanding -- fennel really makes the dish.

Awesome!!!

I made this with only a quick weeknight dinner in mind not thinking there would be much going on with only a handful of ingredients but boy was I wrong. I didn't have fennel on hand so I sauted a couple of red onions. Wow! A keeper

I made this with only a quick weeknight dinner in mind not thinking there would be much going on with only a handful of ingredients but boy was I wrong. I didn't have fennel on hand so I sauted a couple of red onions. Wow! A keeper

I made this with only a quick weeknight dinner in mind not thinking there would be much going on with only a handful of ingredients but boy was I wrong. I didn't have fennel on hand so I sauted a couple of red onions. Wow! A keeper

I started making this recipe last summer and love it. Great for a quick dinner

I've made this on many occasions and it's always received with enthusiasm. The extra pasta water is a must to keep it moist if you have leftovers. Works well as a weekday dinner.

Really, Really Good! My husband loves this. I cut back on the fennel a little but other than that, this recipe is foolproof.

This was a quick and delicious meal to make. The fennel adds nice texture and flavor and the red pepper flakes pack a nice punch. For health reasons, my husband and I are vegetarians, so in this recipe I used Morningstar Italian sausage-style crumbles and it turned out really great. We were able to enjoy all the flavor without all the fat.

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