With its distinctive licorice-like flavor and significant amounts of vitamin C and essential minerals, fresh fennel is an underrated vegetable well worth getting to know better, raw or cooked. Here it’s thinly sliced and sauteed until meltingly tender with fresh bell pepper and combined with Italian sausage and pasta for a no-fuss, one-dish meal. The seasonings in the sausage (which typically include fennel seeds) eliminate the need for extra spices and aromatics. This dish is healthier with a chicken sausage or plant-based product; you can reduce carbs with vegetable noodles, if you like. From cookbook author Susan Puckett. Serves 5.
12 ounces bow-tie or other short pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a splash for pasta water
1 medium bulb fennel, preferably with fronds
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 pound sweet or spicy Italian chicken sausage
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons of salt and a splash of oil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
While waiting for the water to boil, trim and thinly slice the fennel bulb and chop a tablespoon or so of the (optional) fronds. Core, seed, and thinly slice the red pepper. Slice open and remove the sausage from its casing.
When the pasta is done, remove about ½ cup of the pasta water and set aside. Then drain and transfer the cooked pasta to a bowl, and toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil to prevent sticking.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. When hot, add the sausage and cook until well-browned and cooked through, breaking up large chunks with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon to a bowl or plate and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the sliced fennel (reserve the fronds for later) and red pepper, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook until the fennel and pepper are soft and caramelized a bit, about 4-5 minutes.
Add the sausage back to the skillet, along with the reserved pasta water, scraping up any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Add the pasta, heat through, toss, and ladle into serving bowls. Sprinkle with the chopped fronds and grated cheese, if desired, and serve.
276 calories, 19.6g protein, 22g carbohydrates, 12g fat