No. 293: Sausage & Fennel Ragù + Bonus Freezer Meal

I love to read about cooking. It's fun to hear about trends, new restaurants, techniques and ideas.

This week I found a Real Simple article outlining The Only 12 Spices You Really Need. They argue that of the 11,400+ spices you can find in a store, these are the only ones you need to make your dish really pop:

  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Curry powder
  • Ground ginger
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Kosher salt
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Sea salt

I'm proud to say I have all of these in my pantry at this very moment. I'd have to add the following to the list:

  • Dried thyme and rosemary (I like oregano, but don't find it essential)
  • Fennel seeds
  • Ground mustard
  • Paprika (smoked and regular:)

But honestly, I think the Real Simple folks hit the essentials right on the money.

What would you need to add to for your list of essentials?

Sausage & Fennel Ragù

I like how the author of this recipe described the process of making ragù.

"Making a good ragù is like playing music ... It may sound a little high-flying, but as I browned meat, softened vegetables, simmered it down, waiting for each part to reach its finish, I felt like I was conducting a symphony. That's the pleasure of ragù — you feel as if you have just done something incredibly worthwhile and substantial. And so you have.

That description alone will entice you to make this flavorful sauce. Plus, this was another freezer friendly meal for Mr. McC and I as baby prep continues!

Ingredients

Serves 8
Olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 small to medium white onions
6 cloves garlic
2 small fennel bulbs
Two 32-ounce cans diced tomatoes, with their juices
One 15-ounce can tomato puree
1 long sprig rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cooked pasta, to serve
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

*I also peeled and diced a couple carrots that were lying around and needed a home

To make

Heat a Dutch oven or wide, extra-deep sauté pan over medium heat and drizzle the pan with a tiny bit of olive oil (remember the sausage will create plenty of yummy grease). Spread the oil around as the pan heats up. When the pan is hot, crumble in the raw sausage. Brown the sausage over medium to medium-high heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring and scraping frequently. Don't worry if sausage residue sticks to the bottom of the pan; this will get taken care of later.

While the sausage is cooking, peel and finely dice the onion, and mince the garlic. Remove the stalks and fronds from the fennel and reserve the fronds for garnish later. Dice the fennel bulbs into a similar size and shape as the diced onion.

When the sausage is browned and partially cooked in small crumbles, add the diced onion, garlic, and fennel. Stir thoroughly so the vegetables are coated with the sausage fat.

Meat and veggies

Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook the vegetables with the sausage for at least 15 minutes, or until they start to get tender.

When the vegetables are beginning to be tender, add the two cans of diced tomatoes and the tomato puree. Stir thoroughly and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the rosemary sprig, a pinch of salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.

Ready to simmer

Lower the heat to a bare simmer, and cover the pot loosely with a lid. Cook for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

After an hour, the sauce should have cooked down into a jammy, thick sauce with still-juicy bits of fennel and small chunks of sausage. Remove the rosemary sprig 'sticks' and taste. It probably will not need more salt, as the sausage tends to be quite salty and some canned tomatoes have salt added. But taste and adjust as needed.

Simmered final product

To serve, ladle the ragù over freshly-cooked pasta and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped fennel fronds and a generous pinch of freshly grated Parmesan.

The ragù can be refrigerated for up to five days, and frozen for several months. It gets even better tasting after a night in the fridge.

The results

We loved this dish. So simple and quite effortless when you think about it. Minimal seasonings and lots of simmer time created a magical sauce.

Final plate

The fennel is what really makes it. It remains somewhat toothy and juicy to the end, and has a lovely subtle flavor that guests will be remarking on. I can hear them now asking,"What is that flavor?"

I have to also say I loved the addition of a couple sweet carrots.

The best part of this recipe is how much it makes. I had plenty of ragù to freeze for later and still use for leftover lunch on Friday.

As Charlie Sheen would say, "Winning!"

Bonus Meal: Italian Beef

This is a breeze and tastes a lot like the delish Italian beef you can find in Chicago. Three ingredients + slow cooker + time = a phenomenal no hassle meal that also freezes beautifully.

Ingredients

Package of dry Italian seasoning
2-3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
1 jar shredded pepperocinis

To make

Place beef in the slow cooker. Top with the pepperocinis and Italian seasoning.

Cook on low for 12-18 hours. The longer the better. When done, shred beef with two forks.

Serve with crusty bread and a green side salad. The beef mixture and juices also freeze very well for later eating.

Final dish

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