Recipe: Orecchiette with Caramelized Fennel and Spicy Sausage

updated May 1, 2019
Orecchiette with Caramelized Fennel and Spicy Sausage
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

This earthy winter pasta isn’t complicated, and that’s exactly what makes it perfect. The ingredient list is short — just five if you don’t count salt and pepper — and it has a delicious combination of flavors to brag about. The caramelized fennel lends a not-too-sweet complexity that balances the richness of sausage. These flavors pool in the wells of the orecchiette, so you get a tangle of all these in every bite.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

A Fast, Fancy Pasta to Add to Your Weeknight Roster

Even in its simplicity, this pasta tastes special. That’s thanks to the wallop of flavor that only Italian sausage can deliver. The sweet fragrance of caramelized fennel, whose strong anise notes mellow out when cooked in this manner, helps create the body of the sauce with the added splash of reserved pasta water.

It’s one of those meals that feels celebratory — cracking open a bottle of wine would be fitting here — and yet, it’s a meal easy enough to cook up again next week.

Orecchiette with Caramelized Fennel and Spicy Sausage

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info


  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided

  • 1 pound

    uncooked spicy Italian sausage, casings removed

  • 2

    large fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced (reserve 1/4 cup chopped fronds for serving)

  • 1 pound

    dry orecchiette pasta

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and drain any excess fat in the pan.

  2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sliced fennel to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently and reducing the heat if the fennel starts to burn, until the fennel is soft and caramelized, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

  3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes, or according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then drain.

  4. Add the cooked sausage, pasta, and the reserved pasta water to the skillet, tossing to combine. Continue to toss and stir the pasta until the sauce coats the pasta and the water has evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

  5. Serve with Parmesan cheese and the reserved fennel fronds sprinkled over the top of each bowl.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.