The weather is already starting to warm up here in Austin. While it’s great to live in a city where it generally doesn’t freeze, and snow is even less likely, the time during winter for making hearty stews, braises and pasta dishes is abbreviated.
It’s Valentine’s Day and while I don’t mind spending money on a decent meal, the mark up at restaurants on February 14th is unreal. Mrs. B & B really likes pasta so I decided to make her a homemade sausage ragu before the weather warms up too much. A ragu is an Italian sauce generally served over pasta and is made of meat, vegetables, tomatoes and wine. Although it’s fairly straightforward to make, a hearty ragu is a soul-satisfying dish.
Fennel is an under appreciated vegetable. It has a licorice flavor that pairs well with fruits, especially citrus and tomatoes too. It can be eaten raw or cooked and all the parts from the bulb to the fronds are edible. Fennel can be fibrous so it’s best to cut it into thin slices when eating it raw. Fennel seed is used to make italian sausage, so it seemed like a natural pairing to substitute fennel for celery for the mirepoix (mixture of chopped celery, carrot and onion). You’ll taste the licorice flavor but it won’t hit you over the head. Adding chopped fennel fronds at the end adds freshness and flavor.
I like to finish the dish before serving by cooking the pasta and ragu together. Pasta soaks up the flavor of the sauce and starch helps it to thicken it. For an extra silky and rich dish I’ll add a dab of butter too.
Just like many other stews and sauces, the flavor will improve with time, so the ragu can be made a few days ahead and warmed at the time of service.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 ounces pancetta diced
- 1 pound mild italian sausage
- 1 cup fennel bulb diced, fronds reserved and chopped
- 1/2 cup onion diced
- 1/2 cup carrot diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3/4 cup red wine
- 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- In heavy 6 to 8 quart pot, add the oil and cook the pancetta over medium heat for about 4 minutes until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Increase the heat to high and add the sausage and cook until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Adjust heat back to medium and add the fennel, onion and carrot. Sweat vegetables until softened but not browned, another 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
- Push the vegetables to the side of the pot and cook the tomato paste until the color intensifies, another few minutes.
- Deglaze the pot with the wine and reduce by half scraping up any brown bits.
- Add the tomatoes, broth, thyme and bay leaves. Bring to boil and then turn down heat to simmer covered for 60 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
- Serve over your favorite pasta and garnish with parmesan cheese and a few pinches of fennel fronds