Maccheroni Arrotolati : Sweet Pork Sausage and Fennel Ragu

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The time for cozier meals is finally here. Fennel season will soon begin too. I remember when I first had fennel. Hated it. I think I had it raw on some salad. I couldn’t even pretend to like it, but why would I? nobody warned me. The strong licorice flavor? are you serious?… yikes! who likes this stuff? But years have gone by now. Maybe then the introduction was a bit too precipitated? I have no idea. Later, fennel will finally grow on me. I had it cooked too. That changed everything.  Today, I love fennel and I use it frequently in seafood and pork dishes. And just like garlic or onion, its “kick” is softened by cooking. Its structure is stronger than that of celery and onion, adding a bit of crunchiness to quick sauces like in this ragu.

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This quick and easy recipe, like many pasta recipes requires only a few ingredients and minimum cooking time. Flavor? loaded. Balancing this ragu can be a bit tricky. Onions and fennel add sugars, it tends to go sweet, so keep some vinegar at hand, champagne vinegar which goes great with pork is what I used, helps cutting through the sweet and fatty sauce. Fresh lemon juice would be an awesome choice and my preference, but I didn’t have lemons at hand. Salt through the cooking process, always tasting as you go. I haven’t found a better way to season food yet, and as a positive side effect, salting through the cooking process adds complexity to the final flavors… it could be all in my head. I’m getting old so I’ve stared to come up with really weird theories about everything, but try it for yourself, you might find this theory to be correct!

Ingredients (serves 4):

2 cups of dry short pasta (I used meccheroni arrotolati)

2 sweet pork sausages, raw

3 San Marzano canned tomatoes or the equivalent in tomato sauce

1/2 fennel bulb medium dice

1/2 white onion small dice

2 celery stalks small dice

1 rosemary sprig (brused with butt of knife)

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 splash or champagne vinegar

Salt and Black Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil

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Method:

Cook pasta al dente in salted water according to the instructions on the box. Set aside. Place some of the pasta water in a bowl.

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Slit the pork sausages and remove the forcemeat and set on a bowl. Heat the olive oil to medium-high in a medium sized pot or saucepan. When oil is shimmering add the forcemeat, don’t let olive oil smoke, it’s pretty much game over after that. Brown meat throughly. Deglaze with some pasta water if needed (1 or 2 Tbsp). Add the rosemary. Add celery, onion and fennel to the pot. Cook until translucent, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, don’t let brown. Add tomatoes (blended) or the tomato sauce. Add some salt, but remember, pork sausage is salty, so keep that in mind. Cook tomato sauce until it acquires a brown hue. Takes about 4 minutes. Add 1/3 cup of pasta water. Reduce until ragu is thick and awesome. Adjust salt, pepper, and add a splash of champagne vinegar to brighten things up. Mix well with cooked pasta and serve. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over each plate. Devour immediately. Seriously.

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    1. hey Sofia! welcome! I had these pork sausages that needed something to go with and I found some nice looking fennel bulbs at the sore, plus I was craving pasta badly, so I made this! it was yummy!!

  1. This sounds great, Paul, though I’ve not much experience with fennel added to our sauces. We just never used it in this way. I’m familiar with this pasta, though. I found it in my Italian market and really liked it — and then they staopped carrying it. Never fails. 🙂

    1. it never does, amazing how it works, i found it at home goods, there’s an aisle for imported food goods, like preserve and dry pasta. They also have it at the word market I’m pretty sure. I wasn’t too fond of this particular brand, the texture was a bit chalky, like it needed more eggs, or more gluten development, but the sauce turned out pretty tasty. Today I combined the ragu with the black beans… and had some pork shoulder with it. I should have blogged about that!

  2. I can feel the smell through my screen … I just love fennel – even if I don’t like licorice as such. Love pasta, but I don’t eat it that often for some reason … don’t know why. I could do with a big plate of this after my zumba class .. this evening. Great recipe with loads of refine flavors … never heard about champagne vinegar before.

      1. US have an ocean of the most wired and wonderful products – we only have 30% of what you can choose from. I’m sure I can get champagne vinegar if I go to a special shop in one of our bigger cities.

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