Fennel and Sausage Pasta

Anyone who’s eaten food that contains fennel knows that the versatile vegetable has a distinctly aromatic taste that is unique. It’s strikingly reminiscent of licorice and anise.

Most often associated with Italian cooking, fennel is a mainstay in Mediterranean cuisine, where both its bulbs and fronds are used, both raw and cooked, in side dishes, salads, pastas, vegetable dishes and risottos. Fennel seed also is a common ingredient in Italian sausages and meatballs.

If I didn’t know this before, a recent conversation with some friends of mine, the Gambuccis, a proud Italian family, made the point perfectly clear. I had mentioned making some marinara sauce, and one of the daughters, Mary Ann, asked if mine included fennel. She said real marinara sauce had to contain fennel. I had to admit that it didn’t but that it seemed like a good idea.

My cooking experience with fennel is somewhat limited, although I’ve made a few dishes containing it over the years. My repertoire will certainly expand a little soon, since Therese just came home from the supermarket with some fennel. While I don’t exactly recall the context of the conversation, she and a friend of ours were talking about fennel just the other day. I suspect that’s what prompted her to make the purchase.

I’m not sure what to make, but the following recipes are possibilities. One is for a sausage and fennel pasta. Another is a white bean salad with fennel and roasted red pepper. The third is a fennel saute with sausage and beans. All look delicious. Maybe I’ll have to try each of them.

Fennel and Sausage Pasta
½ pound lean turkey sausage (preferably fennel-flavored)
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup cauliflower florets broken into small pieces
1 cup canned, no-salt-added crushed tomatoes
4 ounces dried spaghetti
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Put a 3- to 4-quart saucepan of water on to boil. Cut sausage into ½-inch slices. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute sausage 2 minutes and set aside. Add fennel, onion and cauliflower to the pan and saute 5 minutes. As the vegetables start to color, return the sausage to the skillet for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and set aside, covered, off the heat.
As soon as the water boils, cook the spaghetti about 8 minutes. Drain and return to saucepan. Add the olive oil and toss. Add the sausage mixture and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well and serve with parsley on top.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 535 calories, 27 percent of calories from fat, 16.3 grams fat (3.5 grams saturated, 3.5 grams monounsaturated), 60 milligrams cholesterol, 30 grams protein, 67.8 grams carbohydrates, 7.8 grams fiber, 480 milligrams sodium.

Fennel Saute with Beans and Sausage
1 large fennel bulb, cored, chopped, stalks and ½ cup fronds, reserved 3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 large leeks, halved, rinsed, sliced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 14½-ounces can white beans, drained
6 precooked turkey sausages, sliced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup grated cheese, such as Asiago, Parmesan or Romano
Roughly chop the fennel stalks; heat the stalks, other trimmings, water and ¼ teaspoon of the salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer; cook until just tender, about 15 minutes. Strain broth into a medium bowl; discard stalks and trimmings.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat; add onions, leeks, ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chopped fennel bulb; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add a little fennel broth if mixture becomes dry. Stir in beans, sliced sausage, remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt, remaining ¼ teaspoon of the red pepper flakes and black pepper to taste; cook until warmed through, adding more fennel broth if needed.
Serve in bowls, topped with grated cheese and chopped fennel fronds.
Note: Feel free to use all the fennel trimmings when you make the broth. For this recipe, use as much or as little broth as you wish; store any extra in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for later use.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information per serving: 544 calories, 50 percent of calories from fat, 30 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat, 137 milligrams cholesterol, 40 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams protein, 1,827 milligrams sodium, 9 grams fiber.

White Bean Salad with Roasted Red Pepper and Fennel
1 15-ounce can Great Northern white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup diced roasted red pepper
½ cup diced fennel
12 medium leaves fresh basil, cut into slivers (about 1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons minced green onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix together beans, roasted red pepper, fennel, basil, green onions and parsley in a medium bowl.
Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and black pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the beans, and toss to combine. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes; toss again briefly before serving.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 235 calories, 15 grams fat (2 grams saturated), no cholesterol; 6 grams protein, 19 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 7 grams fiber, 470 milligrams sodium, 50 milligrams calcium.