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.