Orecchiette with sausage, fennel and tomato

Fennel provides a mild and fresh flavor to this quick dish, adapted from Fine Cooking, which makes an tasty weeknight meal as well as excellent leftovers for lunch the next day.


  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fresh (or canned) diced tomatoes, drained if using canned
  • 12 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 lb. dried orecchiette (small cupped pasta; “litte ears” in Italian)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano


  1. Set a large pot of water on high to boil.
  2. Cut stalks off fennel bulb and trim the end. Cut bulb in half and chop finely, similar to cutting an onion. You may cut the core out if it seems very tough.
  3. Remove sausage from casing. In a large saute pan, cook sausage meat on medium-high, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula, until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl (or, if very oily, a paper-towel-lined plate) and pour off and discard any fat left in the pan.
  4. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to pan and cook the fennel over medium heat, sprinkling with a bit of salt and stirring, until the fennel softens and browns lightly, about 6 minutes.
  5. Raise the heat to high, add the wine, and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits, until almost evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Add the sausage, tomatoes, and half of the basil, as well as salt, pepper and red pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down, 6 to 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, salt the pasta water (salty like the sea) and cook the orecchiette, stirring frequently, until soft but with a chewy bite at the center. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain pasta. Return the pasta to the pot and add the sauce, mixing well. If the pasta seems dry, add enough cooking water to moisten it to your liking. Stir in half of the cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve sprinkled with the remaining cheese and basil.

Serves 4.


  • Gluten-free option: serve the sausage, fennel tomato sauce over polenta.
  • Sausage provides much of the flavor of this dish, so try to find a good one. Check the spiciness of your sausage before you add crushed red pepper – you may not need any.
  • If you use poultry sausage, as I often do, you probably won’t need to drain the cooked sausage meat.
  • Flat-leaf parsley is a good substitute when basil is out of season.
  • Dry vermouth is a good substitute for white wine, and a bottle is great to have on hand for cooking as it keeps much longer than wine.
  • Unlike many pasta dishes, this one is very good left over.

Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.

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