Spicy Fennel Sausage Penne is a rich chunky tomato sauce, full of veggies like onion, fennel, and bell pepper and big slices of Italian Sausage links. Don’t let the “spicy” title scare you away! Italian Sausage is just deep in flavor, you can use any mild to hot sausage you like.
Pasta night is always a favorite in our house, it’s the night of the week I know the kids will eat, and while we love the staples Spaghetti and Bolognese, this variation is a fun extra, totally new yet still familiar. We’re always trying to eat more vegetables and this sauce is not short on them! Adding a few new ones to the standard red sauce just makes for well, something new. Fennel is not a regular vegetable is most people’s shopping cart, but that goofy looking stalky bulb adds a great depth of flavor, definitely give it a try!
How to Slice Fennel
Wash the fennel. Slice off the green stalks but don’t discard, I’ve seen them often discarded but they are completely edible. Slice the bottom end off the white bulb, the dirty spot where the roots have been cut off. Next, quarter the fennel bulb, making 2 perpendicular cuts from the top straight through to the root part. From there you can see the small core near the base in all 4 of your wedges, cut it out and discard. Now take your 4 quarters and slice them the short way, you can also slice up most or all of those green stalky tops and use them too. The fennel fronds can be chopped along with it, used as a garnish, or discarded. Slice your peppers and onions to be similar in size.
I prefer the big slices of veggies in this sauce, paired with the large chunks of Italian Sausage it’s just so hearty and rustic. However, it does leave a lot for the kids to pick out! So you have some options here, all those sliced veggies can be chopped smaller so they blend in, they could even be pulsed in a food processor to “hide” them. The canned tomatoes can also be left as chunky or smooth as you like. You can use whole peeled or crushed or anything in between, they can also be chopped or pulsed in a food processor. The Italian Sausage links could also be substituted with bulk Italian Sausage, just brown it in the pot about halfway before adding the veggies. And of course, this dish could be left completely vegetarian.
For our family of 4, mom and dad also had pasta for lunch the next day, and there was even a little jar of sauce leftover on top of that, perfect for flatbread pizzas for the kids for lunch. This recipe feeds about 5 to 6 people, but if you want to stretch it to feed more, or just make extra sauce for the freezer, you can simply add an extra can of tomato, even two would be okay.
As the weather turns colder, a big pot of sauce on the stove is so comforting. This needs to simmer an hour, but it can easily be made anytime in the afternoon and sit on low until dinner time. It’s extra nutritious with all those veggies, but I like to serve it with a simple salad anyway and some crusty bread!
Spicy Fennel Sausage Penne
- 3 to 4 links Italian sausage or could use ½-1 lb bulk ground sausage
- 1 T olive oil
- ½ onion sliced
- 1 bell pepper, any color sliced
- 1 fennel bulb quartered, core removed, and sliced
- ½ t kosher salt
- 6 grinds fresh black pepper
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 2 t dried Italian seasoning (or fresh herbs if you have them, parsley, oregano, thyme, basil)
- 1 T brown sugar
- 2 28oz cans tomato (either whole peeled broken up, or diced or crushed or a combination--can use 3 cans to stretch the recipe)
- 1 lb penne, rigatoni, ziti or any short pasta
- Parmesan cheese for serving
- In a large pot over medium heat, simmer the sausage links in enough water just to cover them until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove sausage to a plate with tongs, drain water, and slice in large chunks.
- In the same pot (now empty) over medium heat, add the oil and saute the onion, peppers, fennel and sausage (keep veggies to one side and sausage to the other). Season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally, but not too often so sausage and veggies can caramelize, about 20 minutes.
- Add garlic, brown sugar and herbs and cook 1 minute more. Add canned tomatoes.
- Simmer the sauce on low for about 1 hour (longer is fine too), stirring occasionally.
- When ready, cook pasta following package instructions, top with the sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. Leftover sauce can be frozen.