I have eaten this pasta for 3 of the last 4 days and still want more. So dang good and not one of the same old recipes. This one, oh, this one will make you want to slap your grandma.
It’s a smokey-sweet-savory mixture of sausage, caramelized onion and fennel, asparagus, artichoke hearts, spinach, olives, a hint of crushed walnuts and golden raisins, feta cheese and a squeeze of lemon juice. “Who would think of this?” my Cowboy might say though usually in reference to politicians, not pasta.
Chef Stephanie Valentine, that’s who. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Rancho La Zaca’s own, right here on the outskirts of Los Olivos, California, population 1,000.
It’s long-ish list of ingredients, but there will not be a Spanish Inquisition if you omit one or several. If you do try it just this way, however, prepare to bust with joy. Or burst. That said, Steph simply uses the caramelized onion-fennel mixture as a base. She even likes it as a sauce on its own, and I do not question her in such matters. You can certainly go vegetarian, minus the sausage and/or the cheese; and the vegetables and herbs can vary.
The whiffs of walnuts, olives, and raisins do lend a certain je ne sais quoi, but it would still be good without. The pasta used here is farro pizzichi, which I reckon they do not carry at the Piggly Wiggly in Tarboro. So you could also use farfalle (bowtie), penne, fusilli, whateveri. I would not recommend a linguini or fettucini type noodle, because when cooked and set aside it will stick together and not handle as well as the piece-y kind. Doesn’t have to be whole grain, either, but it’s healthier. Just sayin.
- 8 ounces pasta
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus a few tablespoons extra
- About 3/4 cup julienned onion
- About 1 cup thinly sliced fennel
- 1/2 to 3/4 pound bulk sausage
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 cooked artichoke heart, chopped; or 1/2 cup frozen artichoke hearts
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh asparagus (in 1-inch pieces)
- 1/4 cup crushed walnuts
- 5 green olives, pitted and julienned
- 1 teaspoon chopped golden raisins
- 1 bunch spinach, or about 2 cups packed leaves, stemmed and cleaned
- 1 or 2 lemons
- 1/2 to 1/3 cup chicken stock (or white or red wine)
- A handful of herbs--whatever you have--basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives
- Salt and pepper
- Bring a large pot of water to boil and add a buncha salt. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat, and add onion and fennel. Reduce heat and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes. This caramelizing process "sweats" the liquid from the vegetables and concentrates their flavors into indescribable deliciousness.
- In a separate pan, brown and cook the sausage, breaking it into bite-size chunks, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, shallot, artichoke hearts, and asparagus, and cook another 3 minutes. Add walnuts, raisins, and olives and cook 2 minutes more. Add spinach leaves and the onion-fennel mixture and stir another minute or so for the spinach to cook through.
- Add chicken stock and pasta, and season with the juice of 1 or 2 lemons and another glug of olive oil, give or take 1/3 cup. Season with salt and pepper and crumble feta on top.