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Italian Sausage Sauce with Fresh Fennel
Rich Italian sausage finds a perfectly light, fresh, herbal-vegetable background in this delicious sauce.

1 pound sweet Italian sausage (about 4 links)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 bulbs fresh fennel and the feathery fennel greens
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, slivered
4 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 10 tomatoes), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano as an accompaniment

1. Prick each sausage several times with the tines of a fork. Cook the sausage in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, deep skillet over moderate heat, turning often, until well browned and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Remove sausage from skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil. finely chop the fennel bulb, reserving the feathery greens, and add bulb to skillet. Stir in the onion, celery, and garlic, and cook, over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft and lightly browned.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, parsley, tomato paste, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. (Add a little water if necessary to prevent the sauce from sticking to the skillet.) Put the sauce through a food mill into a saucepan.
3. Cut the sausage into medium chunks, add to the sauce, and cook for 5 minutes longer.
4. Toss hot pasta with the sauce. (Add a little pasta cooking water if necessary to reach the desired consistency.) Sprinkle with fennel greens and serve immediately. Pass freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano if desired.

Rich Italian sausage finds a perfectly light, fresh, herbal-vegetable background in this delicious sauce. You can use sweet Italian sausage from the supermarket or purchase one of the great fresh sausages made at Dean & DeLuca -- or make your own Dean & DeLuca-style sausage. We like this sauce with short, relatively thin dried pasta shapes, like penne or ziti. Makes enough sauce for 2 pounds dried pasta