I’ve seen a lot of rave reviews for this recipe from Ina Garten’s book, Cooking for Jeffrey. The hype was warranted, a delicious comforting pasta full of flavour. If you don’t think you like fennel try it in this recipe and you might just change your mind. This doesn’t have an overt aniseed flavour but there’s a hint of something that makes the pasta sauce a bit more interesting. You really do need fresh fennel for this one.
Ingredients – Serves 4
3 cups chopped fennel (1 very large fennel bulb)
1 large onion chopped
750g Italian sausage, casing removed
2 tsp. minced garlic (2 cloves)
½ teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cups half-and-half – I used whole milk
2 tbsp. tomato paste
500g Rigatoni, preferably De Cecco
½ cup chopped, fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 cup freshly grated Reggiano Parmigiano cheese, divided
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and sauté for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the sausage and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, crumbling it with a fork, until nicely browned. Add the garlic, crushed fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. black pepper and cook for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the wine, bring to a boil and add the heavy cream, half-and-half (or milk), and tomato paste. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. It may look like there’s too much liquid but the pasta, once it’s added will soak up a lot of the liquid.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tbsp. salt and cook the rigatoni according to package directions – you really want the pasta to still have a bit of a bite to it as it will finish cooking in the sauce. Drain and add to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce.
Off the heat, stir in the parsley and ½ cup of the Reggiano Parmigiano. Serve hot in shallow bowls with passing the remaining ½ cup of Parmigiano. If you’re making this ahead, a nice way to serve it is to put it into shallow, individual, oven proof ramekins (or a large lasagna dish) and top with grated mozzarella or gruyere and bake in a 200C oven for 20 minutes.