I love fennel with good Italian sausage for a main course, sandwich or even to dress a pasta, and this combination works. Here, meat and vegetables are skillet-cooked, separately and then together, until their flavors are merged and concentrated. It may seem that a lot of fennel is called for, but in cooking fennel reduces down, caramelizing as it cooks. Fennel prepared this way is excellent with any grilled meats, even with grilled fish. I am glad to say that the American palate is slowly discovering fennel, and this recipe provides an easy, tasty way to enjoy it.
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 sweet Italian sausages (about 2 pounds)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 1 cup large green olives, squashed to open them
- 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino (crushed red pepper flakes) or to taste
- 3-1/2 pounds fresh fennel, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks (see Trimming Fresh Fennel)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Pour half the olive oil into the big skillet and warm over medium-high heat. Lay in all the sausages; cook them for 5 minutes or more, rolling them over occasionally, until they’re nicely browned on all sides. Pour in the wine and boil it until it is reduced by half. Remove the sausages to a platter and pour over the wine remaining in the pan.
Add the remaining 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. Drop the peperoncino in a hot spot for a few seconds, then scatter the crushed olives in the pan; toss and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the fennel chunks and stir them in with the garlic and olives. Season the vegetables with ½ teaspoon salt, cover the skillet and cook over medium-high heat for 20 minutes, tossing and stirring now and then until 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; you want it to be wilted, but not mushy.
When the fennel is cooked through, return the sausages and the wine to the skillet. Turn and tumble the meat and vegetables together and cook uncovered another 5 minutes or so until everything is deeply caramelized and glazed.
Adjust the seasoning to taste; keep cooking and tumbling the sausages and fennel.
Serve piping hot.