There is something magical about this recipe, which coaxes the ultimate flavour out of just a few humble supermarket ingredients, turning them into a rich-tasting and well-balanced pasta dish that will have your family reaching for seconds.
After browning the sausage, we sauteed a hefty amount of sliced onions, along with sliced fennel, which added texture and flavour to the dish. And while it may seem like a mistake to add an entire can of tomato paste and no other tomato product to make the sauce, the concentrated, bold flavour of the tomato paste intensified during cooking and added rich notes to the dish.
To pull everything together, we added 2 cups of boiling water, simmering the mixture until thick. Sharp Pecorino cheese, added to the sausage-onion mixture, enriched the sauce by giving it a salty bite. Chopped fennel fronds added pleasant anise notes upon serving.
ZITI WITH FENNEL AND ITALIAN SAUSAGE
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 onions, halved and sliced thin
1 fennel bulb, fronds chopped, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 pound ziti
Salt and pepper
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot for pasta. Cook sausage in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Stir in onions and fennel, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Uncover, reduce heat to medium, and continue to cook until vegetables are golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add tomato paste and cook until darkened, about 3 minutes. Stir in 2 cups boiling pasta water and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add sausage mixture, Pecorino, and 1 cup reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add remaining cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Sprinkle individual portions with fennel fronds and extra Pecorino before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 550 calories; 187 calories from fat; 21 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 48 mg cholesterol; 929 mg sodium; 68 g carbohydrate; 6 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 21 g protein.