It’s a big heaping mess, but boy is it good. The recipe comes from “The Silver Spoon Cookbook,” a birthday gift from Matthew my show’s director and a book that’s called Italy’s version of “The Joy of Cooking.” This specific recipe comes from the special back section where Italian chefs offer up their own favorite dishes and is it any surprise that the chef whose recipe I fluttered to first was Lydia Bastianich? Her Cavatappi with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Cannellini Beans is an Amateur Gourmet staple–we eat it here at least once every two weeks. Plus, the recipe she offers up in this book–ziti with onions, sausage and fennel–is something I’ve seen her make on her show and it’s a naturally enticing combination.
You saw the end result on this week’s FN Dish and let me tell you, it was tremendous. The fat from the sausage enriches the pasta, the fennel and onion add a lovely sweetness, and then you douse the whole thing with cheese. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and definitely something to make before it gets warm outside. Here’s the recipe…
Zite with Sausage, Onions and Fennel
[adapted from Lydia Bastianich]
1 Tbs sea salt
1 pound sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds)
1 large fennel bulb with stem and fronds (about 1 pound), trimmed and halved lengthwise
5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, halved and sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp chile flakes
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 pound zite (long tubes of dried pasta)
1 cup romano, Parmesan or grana padano cheese, freshly grated
Boil lots of water with the salt (or more salt to make it taste like sea water) until rapidly boiling.
Remove the sausage from the casing and break the meat up with your fingers. Slice the fennel into 1/2-inch slices. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat and add the sausage, cooking, stirring and breaking it up with a spoon for 1-1 1/2 minutes until it is sizzling and beginning to brown. Push aside (you’ll be pushing lots of things aside this recipe) and add onion slices and cook, stirring, until they are sizzling and wilting (2 minutes). Stir in with the meat.
Push aside and add the fennel and cook for 1 minute until wilted, then stir with the other mixture. Sprinkle in half the salt and push to one side again. Add chile flakes (more if you like it spicy) and toast for 30 seconds then stir them in. Move the mixture to the sides again, add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes until it is sizzling and caramelizing, then stir it into the sausage mixture.
Ladle 3 cups of the salted, boiling water into the skillet, stir well and bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 6 minutes until the fennel is soft but not mushy. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pan of boiling water, stir and bring back to a boil then cook for about 8 minutes until almost al dente.
Check the sauce, which shouldn’t be too thick–if necessary stir in more water. When the sauce is done adjust seasoning. When pasta is al dente, lift out of the pan with a spider, drain briefly and add to the sauce. Toss pasta with the sauce, add more pasta cooking water if too thick, sprinkle with fennel fronds and cook, tossing constantly, for 2 minutes until the pasta is perfectly al dente and coated with the sauce. Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to warm pasta bowls and serve.