Italian sausage is usually seasoned with fennel seed, which makes it a great match with fresh fennel. I love the sweetness of the fennel and tomato sauce contrasting with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the bitterness of the rapini. There is so much vegetable matter in this dish that it is super healthy. It makes about 4 hearty servings that are more veg than pasta, which is really the healthiest way to eat pasta. One serving is 1/2 a cup...have you ever seen a 1/2 cup of pasta? I could eat it in one bite! Bulking up your pasta with veggies makes it go a lot further and makes for a lighter, but more satisfying dish. Just leave out the sausage or substitute chick peas to make this vegetarian.
1 lb short whole grain pasta (penne, rotini, etc.), cook according to package directions
1 lb hot (or sweet) Italian turkey sausage, sliced, or removed from casing
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seed (optional)
Hot chili flakes, to taste (optional)
1 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
1 bunch rapini, stem ends trimmed and roughly chopped
4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
750ml jar tomato sauce (I like PC Blue Menu - it has no added sugar or fat, but use whatever you like), or 3 cups homemade tomato sauce
Place sliced sausage in large skillet over medium heat (or squeeze sausage meat out of casings into skillet) and cook until almost fully cooked. Add garlic, oregano, fennel seed, chili flakes and sliced fennel and continue cooking until fennel is starting to soften. Add bigger stem pieces of rapini (setting aside delicate leaves and florets) and mushrooms and cook until tender. Pour in tomato sauce and turn heat down to low. Add the rest of the rapini, simmering gently until rapini leaves have wilted.
Toss veggies and sauce with cooked pasta and have lots of fresh parmesan and black pepper for serving.