August 3, 2010

Fusilli with Sweet Sausage and Fennel

"Absolutely delicious!" That is what I exclaimed as I tasted this dish. "Wow, that's really fabulous!" I exclaimed after the second bite. I looked over at MM shoveling pasta into his mouth with one hand and trying to keep Patton from crawling into his lap to get closer to the bowl with the other hand, and I knew we had a winner. The salty, slightly sweet sausage mixed with the sweet, tender fennel and leeks was perfect. The only down side to this dish is that it needs two large pots and a fry pan, so clean up is less than a breeze. The recipe is from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook, which my thoughtful mother-in-law got me for Christmas a year ago. I halved the recipe, but have included the full-size original recipe below.

Fusilli with Sweet Sausage and Fennel
From The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook
Makes 4 main-course servings or 6 first-course servings (although a half-recipe made enough for 2 dinner servings and 2 lunch portions)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 leeks, white part only, rinsed and thinly sliced (although I used some of the light green parts too, because I couldn't stand wasting it)
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground in a mortar (alas, I do not have a mortal and pestle, so was forced to grind the seeds on a cutting board with the bottom of the jar - classy, I know)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 lb sweet Italian pork sausage, casings removed
Splash of sherry vinegar (I didn't have this, so omitted it)
1 lb dried fusilli
Leaves from 6 large fresh tarragon sprigs, coarsely chopped
Handful of fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 cup freshly grated pecorino toscano or pecorino romano cheese

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy flameproof casserole dish over medium heat, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the leeks, fennel and fennel seeds, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half. Add the stock, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a heavy frying pan over high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a spoon. Cook until well browned, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour off most of the fat (keep a little to add flavor) and add a splash of sherry vinegar.

Generously salt the boiling water, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, add the sausage to the pot with the vegetables and simmer for 1-2 minutes to blend the flavors. You should have some liquid left in the pot to form a sauce. If not, add a little warm water or more chicken stock. (I would recommend reserving some of the pasta water for this purpose. I found that at this point my sauce looked ok, but once it all came together, I wished I had had some pasta water to moisten it.) Taste and adjust the seasoning and add a drizzle of olive oil (I did not do this; I felt that it looked oily enough from the sausage).

Drain the pasta and put it in a warmed large, shallow bowl (I threw it in with the veggies and sausage). Add the tarragon, parsley and about 3 tablespoons of the cheese. Toss. Add more cheese on each individual bowl.

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