Italians love fennel, finocchio as we call it, but Americans are just getting familiar with it. It is terrific raw and in Piedmont is dipped raw into hot oil with anchovies. It is also great solo as a braised vegetable. I love the hint of anise flavor in it and the crunchy crack under my teeth went I eat it raw as a snack. The crumbled sausages make this a very flavorful vegetable dish and it can also be used to dress pasta. Braised fennel with sausage can be made in advance, keeps well and reheats well. What more do you want out of a dish? Braised fennel with sausage also goes perfectly with some polenta. For those of us cooking each day after work, polenta is a godsend. It comes together quickly, is relatively healthful, and adds a dose of sunshine to every meal with its creamy golden hue. Nearly any one-dish stew or braise is the perfect accompaniment to polenta. And the leftovers, cut into squares, can be browned in a pan and served with tomorrow night’s supper. The flavors of the fennel mellow beautifully when paired with the sausage.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage without fennel seeds, removed from casings
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored and cut in 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sausage. Saute`, crumbling the sausage with the back of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Clear a hot spot in the pan and add the tomato paste. Let the tomato paste toast for a minute or 2, then stir it into the vegetables. Add the fennel and season with the salt and peperoncino. Lower the heat, cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is tender and caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Uncover and increase heat to cook away any excess liquid in the pan, if necessary. Serve braised fennel with sausage hot.