Caramelized fennel, spicy Italian sausage, and fresh cherry tomatoes come together to create a delicious pasta recipe perfect for weeknight dinners.
One of the most distinctive flavors in Italian sausage is fennel seed. In this recipe, I play off the fennel seed in the Italian sausage by using the fronds, bulb, and stems from fresh fennel.
Adding cherry tomatoes and basil provides freshness and a touch of sweetness to balance out the heat from the Italian sausage. The combination of flavors makes this pasta a favorite dinner in our house.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 small bulb fennel
- 3/4 lb ground hot Italian sausage
- 2 tbsp fennel fronds, chopped
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
- 8 oz rigatoni pasta
- 1/4 cup cooking water from pasta
- Start by removing the core from the fennel bulb, slicing the remaining bulb and stems into thin slivers. Remove the fronds, which are the soft feathery part on top of the stems, and chop up 2 tablespoons worth.
- Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, slivered fennel, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the fennel starts to soften and turns golden as it caramelizes. This takes around 6 to 7 minutes.
- Add the ground Italian sausage, breaking up the sausage into small pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Continue cooking until the sausage is browned, approximately 8 to 9 minutes.
- While the fennel and sausage are cooking, make the pasta according to the directions on the package.
- After the sausage finishes cooking, add the chopped fennel fronds and halved cherry tomatoes. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the tomatoes are warmed through, but not mushy.
- Add the pasta cooking water to deglaze the pan, scraping up any of the caramelized fennel and sausage pieces from the bottom of the pan.
- Drain the pasta while still al dente. Stir the drained pasta into the sausage, fennel, and tomato mixture and cook for a minute or two.
- Stir in the chopped basil and serve immediately.