Sausages with Fennel & Olives
Fennel bulbs are one of those foods that I like but, for whatever odd reason, I never really sought out. Oh Fennel, why did I wait so long to discover you?
I had the great pleasure of watching the live taping of a pilot cooking show at "everyday cook" for Borders Books that featured Lidia Bastianich doing recipes from her forthcoming book Lidia's Italy. (Watching the taping and then tasting all the demo dishes was loads of fun. I'll be writing more on that shortly.)
Among the several dishes Lidia demonstrated that night was this sausage and fennel dish. Once the scent of that sizzling sausage filled the air, the whole audience sighed. (Well, maybe not the vegetarians.) I love sausage, and I love olives, and adding fennel... what a wonderful combination.
We all received copies of Lidia's new book (consider this self-disclosure that I was given the book for free, but I wouldn't write about it if I didn't actually like it). It's intriguing. It isn't a primer on Italian cooking, nor is it a survey of Italian regional cuisine. Instead, Lidia chose ten places in Italy that she loves, and presented a selection of favorite recipes from each area. Her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, added a mini-self guided tour for each region. Between the recipes, the tours, and Lidia's childhood stories, the book has the feel of sharing a personal culinary journey with Lidia. It whets the appetite not only for food, but for travel.
Lidia likes her bulb fennel best "in its natural state," but includes several recipes from her Rome section that feature cooked fennel. I present to you this sneak-preview recipe from Lidia's Italy.
Sausages with Fennel and Olives
(Salsicce con finocchi e olive)
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
12 sweet Italian sausages (NOTE: I halved this recipe when I cooked it, but this is the full version)
1 C dry white wine
6 plump garlic cloves (do pick plump ones), peeled and crushed
1/4 tsp. pepperoncino flakes or to taste (hot chili flakes for us non-Italian speakers)
1 C large green olives, squashed to open them and pitted
3 large fennel bulbs (3.5 - 4 lb total), trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Lidia has a half-page of advice regarding trimming and cutting fennel. Here's a short version adapted by me: Trim the stalks and tough bottoms off the fennel bulbs. Peel off the outer layer. Cut in half lengthwise and trim out the bits of stalk that go down into the bulb. Cut into 1-inch chunks. I thought I chosen large bulbs, but it seemed like there would be "nothing left" if I discarded the whole outer layer, so I just cut out brown spots and used the thick layer too. It took longer to cook, but was still delicious.
Pour 2 Tbs olive oil into a skillet large enough for your sausages and set over medium-high heat. Lay in the sausages and cook for 5 minutes or more, rolling them over occasionally until nicely browned. Pour in the wine and boil until it is reduced by half. Remove the sausages to a platter and pour the remaining wine sauce over them.
Add the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil to the empty skillet. Toss in the garlic cloves and cook for a minute or so over medium heat until they're sizzling. (Don't let them burn! Burned garlic BAD!) Drop in the pepperoncino in a hot spot for a few seconds, then scatter the squashed olives in the pan. Toss and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fennel chunks and stir. Season with 1/2 tsp salt. Cover the skillet and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, tossing and stirring now and then unti the fennel softens, shrinks, and begins to color. Add a bit of water to the pan if the fennel remains hard and resistant to the bite.
When the fennel is cooked through, return the sausages and wine to the skillet. Turn the meat and vegetables together, cook uncovered for another 5 minutes or so, until everything is deeply caramelized and glazed. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve hot.