- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 5 ounces)
- 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian fennel sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 pound dried ziti or penne
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Generously butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
- Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and let foam, stirring constantly, without browning the flour, for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk 1/2 cup at a time, and season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, whisking often, and cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook in batches until just browned, about 4 minutes. Set aside on a plate. Add the fennel to the pan and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the sausage to the pan and continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes longer until flavors are blended.
- Meanwhile, bring 1 gallon water and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the ziti and cook, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking together, until just al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain, then return to the pot.
- Toss the pasta with the olive oil. Add the sausage mixture, the cream sauce, and basil and mix well.
- Spread the pasta in the prepared dish and sprinkle with the remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
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