This is THE dish that absolutely defines comfort food for me. It's a carb laden feast with meat and sweet fennel, all wrapped in the coziest blanket of creamy cheesy tomato sauce.
If meal prep is your thing -- assemble this over the weekend and keep covered in your fridge. Take it out about 30 minutes before baking. Add a few minutes to cooking time. Serve it up with your favorite green salad.....or not.....the choice is up to you!
If you're more by a "fly by the seat of your pants" this takes about 20 minutes to prep, or less if your knife and sauté skills are Iron Chef-like.
And, if you're like me and forget to buy fennel -- the fennel seed mimics the flavor beautifully. Exactly the same, nope. But oh so close!!
- 1 lb orecchiette (or rigatoni)
- 1 fennel bulb (OR 1 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound mild Italian sausage, ground
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 cup of your favorite tomato sauce (I love Rao's marinara or tomato basil)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups shredded fontina cheese
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
To save some time, start boiling the water first. While you're waiting for the water to boil, start cooking the sausage and fennel. By the time the sausage and fennel is finished, the water should have boiled, and while the pasta is cooking, chop the onion and mix the sugar and vinegar in a small dish. Now it will be time to add the sausage/fennel to the pasta. Give it a stir. Next step is to cook the onion and get the tomato cream sauce cooking. While the sauce is simmering, grate the fontina on a piece of parchment paper (makes cleanup SUPER easy!), and the Parmesan (on a separate piece of parchment).