From Cooking Light Magazine, December 2004

1 (1¼-pound) fennel bulb
6 quarts water
2¼ teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound uncooked ziti (short, tube-shaped pasta)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
2 cups (¼-inch-thick) onion wedges (about 2 medium)
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup tomato paste
¼ cup (1 ounce) grated fresh pecorino Romano cheese

Trim fennel, reserving fronds and bulb. Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise; cut each bulb half lengthwise into (¼-inch-thick) slices. Cut bulb slices into 2-inch-long pieces. Chop fennel fronds to measure 1/3 cup.

Bring 6 quarts water and 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil in a large stockpot. Stir in pasta; partially cover, and return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook 8 minutes or until the pasta is almost al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 2 cups cooking water. Keep more than two cups of the pasta cooking water to adjust the sauce. If the pasta appears dry, ladle in more cooking water; if it is soupy, increase the heat to cook it rapidly and thicken the sauce.

While pasta cooks, heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove sausage from casings. Add sausage to Dutch oven; cook 2 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring to crumble. Push sausage to one side of pan. (By moving ingredients to one side and adding a new ingredient in the open space, each can be sauteed in direct contact with the pan to achieve the right browning, instead of steaming in the mass of ingredients.) Add onion to open space in pan; cook 1 minute or until onion begins to soften. Stir onion into sausage. Push onion mixture to one side of the pan. Add fennel bulb to open space in pan; cook 1 minute or until fennel begins to soften. Stir fennel into onion mixture. Stir in pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook 1 minute. Move the sausage and fennel mixture to outside edges of pan, leaving an open space in center. Add ¼ cup tomato paste to open space in pan; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir tomato paste into fennel mixture.

Add reserved 2 cups cooking water to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 6 minutes or until fennel is tender. Add fennel fronds and pasta; cook 2 minutes or until pasta is al dente, tossing to combine. Remove from heat; stir in cheese. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 1¾ cups)

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